Fire effects on Northern red oak in the tension zone and implications for increased abundance

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Full title: Historic and present day fire effects on Northern red oak in the tension zone and implications for increased abundance

Author: Natalie Laura Cleavitt, Research Associate, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University

Abstract: Northern red oak (Quercus rubraL.; QURU), a valuable timber and wildlife species, is predicted to be favored by warmer, longer growing seasons and become more abundant within the WMNF. This highly desirable species is already being managed for in stands where it is present using shelterwood – prescribed burn sequences. However, in order to understand the ecological potential of QURU to respond to climate change, greater understanding of the unique impacts of fire on oak regeneration from seed is needed. If fire is necessary for high QURU regeneration success, then northward migration would lag climate change considerably. However, relative to other species of oak, QURU has a more ambiguous relationship to fire,and a number of studies using different time scales and approaches have suggested that QURU can maintain itself on the landscape in the absence of fire. Several Canadian studies have suggested that QURU can establish in larger forest gaps and may be mainly dispersal limited at the northern edge of its range. In addition, recent evidence suggests that QURU may be particularly susceptible to belowground interactions that likely affect its ability to regenerate though the implications for management of QURU regeneration remain unexplored. We propose to leverage ongoing silvicultural management for QURU in the tension zone between oak and northern hardwood forest within the WMNF to increase our understanding of factors important in controlling expansion of this species northward in New England. In particular, we seek to clarify: 1) the differential impact of historic disturbance by clearcutting versus clearcutting followed by fire on QURU in the WMNF; and 2) the comparative role of fire in QURU ecology, specifically in relation to site factors, particularly soil. The results of this study will inform management and improve predictions for the rate of increased presence by QURU on the landscape with climate change.