Date on Honors Thesis

Fall 11-28-2016

Department

**Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology**

Examining Committee Member

Paul R. Gagnon, PhD, Advisor

Examining Committee Member

Dayle E. Saar, PhD, Committee Member

Examining Committee Member

Christopher J. Mecklin, PhD, Committee Member

Abstract/Description

With a regular fire regime present on the landscape, open canopies and herbaceous understories characterize oak forests in western Kentucky. However, a long period of fire suppression has changed the structure and composition of many forests in the Southeast. Forest managers at Land Between the Lakes have started using prescribed fire in an attempt to replicate aspects of a natural fire regime and increase the amount of open oak woodlands and savannas in the area. The prescribed fires in our study area were conducted during the dormant season and are very low intensity ground fires.

To understand how prescribed fire affects the forest structure and species composition of an oak-dominated landscape; we studied four different forest management types at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL), Kentucky, USA. The management types we studied included grasslands, areas burned within 6 months of data collection, areas left unburned for greater than 6 months, and areas with no active management. We used an analysis of variance to compare structural characteristics across the management types. We then compared the species composition across management types in the overstory, midstory, and understory using a permutational analysis of variance and non-metric multidimensional scaling.

We found no difference in stem density, amount of bunchgrass tussocks, forbs, or coarse woody material between the unburned and burned sites. This is consistent with several other studies conducted in this region that found it takes long-term and iterative prescribed fires to impact the midstory density. These studies, along with ours, also found that long-term management using fire is necessary to affect the species composition in the midstory. We did find that the species compositions were different across management types in the overstory and the understory. With the low intensity prescribed fires used at our study sites, it is more likely that the species composition would be different in the understory than the overstory. Future research should be conducted to better understand the species composition at burn sites at Land Between the Lakes.