Fire effects on structure, composition, and diversity in a south-central Illinois flatwoods remnant

John B. Taft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fire effects on structure, composition, and species diversity in canopy, shrub/sapling, and groundcover strata were examined following three burns over an eight-year period in a small (6 ha), isolated flatwoods remnant in south-central Illinois. Prior to fire treatments, size-class distribution patterns for trees indicated two species groups, one comprised of oaks dominating the larger size classes, particularly Quercus stellata, and a second group of non-oak species mostly from the small-to-medium size classes. Ground cover was sparse, comprised mostly of tree seedlings and woody vines, and shade-intolerant herbaceous species were absent. Following three burns, total tree density (stems ≥ 6 cm) declined 26% from 465/ha; however, basal area increased from 24.7 m2/ha to 25.6 m2/ha as tree mortality mostly was confined to small-diameter stems. Acer saccharum was the only tree species not to decline in density in the fire-treatment area. While 15 of 20 species in the shrub/sapling stratum declined in density in the fire-treatment area, total stem density increased 170% from 7,133 to 19,227 stems/ha due to increases of Rubus allegheniensis and Sassafras albidum. Overall ground-cover species richness increased 81% following the three burns from 42 to 76 species while species density nearly tripled from 3.2 to 9.4 species/0.5-m2. This increase included many characteristic flatwoods species; however, there also was an increase in ruderal species. Perennial forbs comprised the physiognomic class with greatest frequency following fire treatment and the most species-rich group; other groups that increased greatly in frequency and species richness were biennial and annual forbs and perennial sedges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-313
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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