Date of Award

December 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Donald L Hagan

Committee Member

William C Bridges

Committee Member

Kyle Barrett

Committee Member

Adam Coates

Committee Member

Steve Norman


There has been growing interest in recent decades in using prescribed fire for hazardous fuels reduction and ecological restoration in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The application of prescribed fire in forests of this region has typically occurred in the dormant season, but with managers often looking for more opportunities to burn. In this study, we compared the effects of dormant season and early growing season burn treatments on fire behavior, fuel consumption, and the structure and composition of plant communities in relation to topographic and meteorological influences on fire behavior. Replicated treatments were analyzed using univariate, bivariate, and multivariate methods to quantify and evaluate effects on response variables. Our results indicated that fuel moisture was lower and temperatures were higher in early growing season burns than in dormant season burns. This pattern likely contributed to the greater proportion of plot area burned in the early growing season, reflecting fire spread into parts of the landscape that would remain unburned in the dormant season. Season of burn had few significant effects on understory plant abundance and diversity. In the midstory, early growing season burns were most effective among treatments in reducing shrub density, with the greatest differences concentrated in the smallest size classes. Early growing season burns reduced midstory red maple (Acer rubrum L.) density to a greater extent than dormant season burns, though other mesophytic hardwood species may have responded differently. The combination of environmental gradients of elevation, burn severity, and change in canopy cover best explained changes in midstory community composition. In conclusion, early growing season prescribed burns may result in more variable fire behavior yet can still be expected to achieve a similar level of fuel consumption in comparison to dormant season burns. Burning in the early growing season can expand opportunities for meeting management objectives with prescribed fire and be at least as effective as burning in the dormant season in reducing the abundance of mesophytic hardwoods. Season of burn has implications for fuel consumption and response of vegetation that managers can incorporate in using prescribed fire for restoration of fire-excluded forest communities in the southern Appalachians.



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