Date of Award

12-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Alex T. Chow, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Juang-Horng Chong

Committee Member

Marzieh Motallebi

Abstract

Prescribed burning has long been in the history of pine dominated forests for thousands of years before European settlement in the Southern Unites States, and continues to be an important management tool today. This style of management can have various environmental effects on vegetation, soil, wildlife, air, and water quality. Among these potential environmental effects, impact of fire on water quality have received very limited research attention. Increasing reports of negative changes in water quality has been reported following intense wildfire events in the recent years. However limited reports about prescribed fire impact on water quality and aquatic ecosystems have been mixed with examples of little to no effect, or effect to near wildfire levels in systems that undergo frequent fire managements. This study uses two experiments to address the lack of understanding of prescribed forest fire influence on water quality and aquatic biota in the Southeastern pine dominated open savanna ecosystems. In the first experiment, through a controlled experiment testing the impact of different forest detritus on water qualities, we found that water that exported through prescribe burned forest is less acidic, less nutritious, and have less concentrated dissolved carbon than the unmanaged forest, which correlated to improvements in water quality. Our second experiment, through a field survey looking and the effect of frequent prescribed burning on aquatic macroinvertebrate communities found no significant long-term impact of low intensity burn on the aquatic ecosystems, although we did find measurable changes in chemical and hydrological parameters through this management method. These results further confirm the benefits of prescribed fire management in the Southern United States, and releases certain concerns raised by similar studies on different ecosystems. It also validates that prescribed fire impacts are highly site-specific, fire history, watershed condition, and management goals must be carefully considered to determine the potential effectiveness and consequences of using this method.

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