Long-term impacts of prescribed fire on stand structure, growth, mortality, and individual tree vigor in Pinus resinosa forests

Sawyer S. Scherer, Anthony W. D'Amato, Christel C. Kern, Brian J. Palik, Matthew B. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Prescribed fire is increasingly being viewed as a valuable tool for mitigating the ecological consequences of long-term fire suppression within fire-adapted forest ecosystems. While the use of burning treatments in northern temperate conifer forests has at times received considerable attention, the long-term (>10 years) effects on forest structure and development have not been quantified. We describe the persistence of prescribed fire effects in a mature red pine (Pinus resinosa Ait.)-dominated forest in northern Minnesota, USA over a ~50 year period, as well as the relative roles of fire season and frequency in affecting individual tree and stand-level structural responses. Burning treatments were applied on 0.4 ha compartments arranged in a randomized block design with four blocks. Burning treatments crossed fire season (dormant, summer) and frequency (annual, biennial, and periodic), and include an unburned control for comparison. Treatments were applied from 1960 to 1970, with no further management interventions occurring since. Data were collected periodically from 1960 to 2014.Forest structural development trajectories were significantly altered by the application of fire treatments. Burning treatments led to lower overstory densities, lower stand basal area, and larger tree diameters when compared to the unburned control over the study period. Differences between burning treatments were less apparent suggesting that the application of burning itself rather than a particular season and/or frequency of burning drives this long-term response. Overstory tree mortality and stand growth showed little or no response to burning treatments. In addition, we detected no impact of burning on long-term overstory tree growth efficiency (based on assessments >40 years post burning) suggesting these treatments had little cumulative effect on tree vigor. Our results indicate that the effects of burning treatments on structural dynamics are not ephemeral, but rather alter stand development trajectories in the long-term. The persistent nature of these effects highlights their potential as a tool for long-lasting structural alterations in treated stands without compromising overstory tree growth and vigor. The lack of red pine recruitment throughout the duration of the study suggests that prescribed fire alone cannot regenerate this species, and that further alteration to overstory and seedbed conditions would be needed to secure new cohorts of this species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-16
Number of pages10
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - May 15 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Robert Buckman for envisioning and establishing this study in 1959 as well as Doug Kastendick and many other scientists and technicians at the US Forest Service- Northern Research Station for collecting and maintaining inventory records throughout the duration of the study. Valuable field assistance in 2014 was provided by Bryten Felix. Discussion and comments from members of the University of Minnesota Silviculture and Applied Forest Ecology Lab have greatly improved the scope and direction of this work. Alessandra Bottero, Jessica Miesel, and three anonymous reviewers provided comments on an earlier draft of this paper that greatly clarified and strengthened this work. Funding which made this work possible was provided by the USFS Northern Research Station and USFS State and Private Forestry Evaluation Monitoring Program . Additional financial support was provided by the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources through the Henry Hansen Forest Ecology Fellowship and Catherine Hill Fellowship in Forest Resources and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Forest structure
  • Great Lakes region
  • Long-term silviculture study
  • Pinus resinosa
  • Prescribed fire


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