An important focus of our lab is how disturbances shape the ecology and management of jack Jack pine planted for Kirtland's warbler habitat in  northern Lower Michiganpine-dominated ecosystems – both forests and barrens - in the Lake States.  Fire is an obvious disturbance agent in these ecosystems, and much of our work focuses on impacts of fire suppression and post-fire succession on jack pine ecosystem structure and diversity. 

Male Kirtland's warbler in jack pineJack pine ecosystems in this region are dominated by management for the federally endangered Kirtland’s warbler, which requires large stands of dense young jack pine typically provided by extensive plantations.  Our lab attempts to identify the historical range of variability of various factors of jack pine ecosystems to determine how management of these landscapes for Kirtland's warbler maintains or alters the abundance, distribution, configuration, and structure of jack pine forests.  Past work has examined microclimate, physiography, soil, and vegetation of this landscape in detail to identify landscape ecosystems dominated by jack pine.

Reconstructed distribution of jack pine age classes in northern Lower Michigan during the pre-European settlement period.Funded by the Joint Fire Sciences Program, we are examining how well Kirtland’s warbler management fits into the historical range of variability of young jack pine forests in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. We are using historical records of forest vegetation and reconstructed fire regimes to estimate the pre-settlement coverage of young jack pine forests (< 25 years) for comparison to current coverage to determine the appropriateness of the current levels of warbler management.  Fire modeling and a landscape model will be used to determine historical fire behavior given the distribution of jack pine across the northetrn Lower Peninsula.

Aerial photo of burned jack pine area, Oscoda County, MichiganA post-fire feature unique to crown fire systems in this region are "stringers", or long strips of forest left unburned at the flanks of an advancing fire front.  These biological legacies are important sources of biodiversity in a burned landscape, and likely have important ecological ramifications on the post-fire landscape.  We are working to examine the influence of stringers on plant communities, bird communities, and adjacent forest structure as the surrounding landscape recovers from fire. 

"Jack pine barrens" were an important cover type on the landscape prior to European settlement, and our lab is active in trying to understand and quantify the origin, distribution, and dynamics of pine barrens, as well as thier importance in shaping fire behavior on the landscape.  Towards this effort, we undego a series of studies examining post-fire jack pine regeneration, geographical variation in cone serotiny, and use of barrens by wildlife species such as upland sandpipers.  

Finally, we are sampling a series of plots in jack forests of northern Lower Michigan established in the mid 1980s and resampled in the 1990s.  Resampling these plots a third time will provide a 30-year time sequence with which to examine changes in forest structure, woody and herbaceous ground vegetation, and the accumulation of forest fuels.  We hope to use these data together with a series of forest succession and fire behavior models to predict the effects of succession on the liklihood and behavior of future wildfires in the region.

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