Ozark ground flora response to landscape-scale prescribed fire
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Restoration of natural communities has increasingly become important to many organizations. One challenge to restoration of natural communities is understanding how to best assess restoration success when several metrics for evaluation exist. An experiment located in the Chilton Creek Management Area (CCMA) of the Current River Hills was initiated to test responses of plant communities to four-year and annual fire. Data were collected in 1997, 2001, 2009, and 2013 from 250 plots at CCMA and from 135 unburned plots from the Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project. Ten common plant community metrics were compared for their utility in evaluating restoration success and were then used to track ground flora changes through time in response to prescribed fire, both at a landscape scale and within ecological communities. The data showed a study-wide recovery from fire, with a shift toward fire-tolerant plant species that are more tolerant of drier conditions. Species richness did not change through time, presumably due to the replacement of fire-intolerant species with fire-tolerant individuals. Conservative plant species generally responded positively to fire. Positive effects of burning were most pronounced on dry, south-facing sites, with little evidence of negative impacts of fire on Ozark ground flora communities on other sites. Short-term losses in evenness and diversity were recovered by the end of the study period, suggesting that managers may require a long-term commitment to landscape-scale burning to achieve desired results.