Thanks to our presenter Dr. Gregory Nowacki for a great discussion of oak ecology and mesophication.
This webinar is now archived, and can be viewed via our co-sponsor, the Lake States Fire Science Consortium.
To visit their website and view the archived webinar through the Adobe Connect platform, please click on the following link or copy and paste into your browser:
Past fire and present-day mesophication: Implications for oak ecosystem restoration
Gregory Nowacki, USFS Regional Ecologist
Oak is a “keystone species” within the Eastern Deciduous Forest and its long-term success, in terms of abundance and wide distribution, has been explicitly linked to disturbance, specifically fire. Oak is an opportunistic species that readily takes advantage of forest disturbance by quickly colonizing and exploiting openings. The disturbance regime that historically supported oak (facilitated greatly by Native American burning) changed upon European arrival. Although early forest exploitation initially buoyed oak dominance through cutting and burning, near-universal fire suppression that followed has had negative effects. Under current high densities, oak performs poorly and is being replaced by shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive species such as sugar and red maple, basswood, and beech. As shade-tolerant competitors become entrenched, opportunities for oak regeneration rapidly degrade with increasing shade and cool and moist understory/fuel bed conditions that greatly retard fire—a positive feedback mechanism coined “mesophication.” A combination of thinning and burning is recommended to restore imperiled oak ecosystems.