Date

2020

Major

Biology (B.S.B.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Steve Vives

Abstract

It has been established for many years that longleaf pine forests require the ecological disturbance of fire in order to maintain a balanced ecosystem. However, a crucial part of these forests has become nearly excluded from prescribed burning. Ephemeral wetlands embedded within longleaf pine forests are a unique and dynamic seasonal habitat that provide homes, refuge, and breeding grounds for a large array of taxa. Past research suggests that fire suppression around ephemeral wetlands is causing harm to many species of amphibians and other herpetofauna, especially threatened species like the flatwoods salamander. However, other species have not been as well studied. This paper takes a deeper look into the impacts of fire suppression on wetlands by trying to understand how it affects a staple of the pond food chain: aquatic invertebrates. This experiment examined the decomposition rate by aquatic invertebrates of different types of leaf packs, including longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), wiregrass (Aristida stricta), and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), as well as the different effects between an open canopy, representing a fire sustained ecosystem, and a closed canopy, representing a fire suppressed ecosystem. Although the decomposition rates were unaffected, invertebrate abundance and diversity were higher in the plots with open canopies, showing that more research needs to be conducted in order to understand proper fire management strategies for ephemeral wetlands.

Thesis Summary

It has been established for many years that longleaf pine forests require the ecological disturbance of fire in order to maintain a balanced ecosystem. However, a crucial part of these forests has become nearly excluded from prescribed burning. Ephemeral wetlands embedded within longleaf pine forests are a unique and dynamic seasonal habitat that provide homes, refuge, and breeding grounds for a large array of taxa. Past research suggests that fire suppression around ephemeral wetlands is causing harm to many species of amphibians and other herpetofauna, especially threatened species like the flatwoods salamander. However, other species have not been as well studied. This paper takes a deeper look into the impacts of fire suppression on wetlands by trying to understand how it affects a staple of the pond food chain: aquatic invertebrates. This experiment examined the decomposition rate by aquatic invertebrates of different types of leaf packs, including longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), wiregrass (Aristida stricta), and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), as well as the different effects between an open canopy, representing a fire sustained ecosystem, and a closed canopy, representing a fire suppressed ecosystem. Although the decomposition rates were unaffected, invertebrate abundance and diversity were higher in the plots with open canopies, showing that more research needs to be conducted in order to understand proper fire management strategies for ephemeral wetlands.

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