Mechanisms of Mesophication: Exploring Positive Feedbacks Between Single Tree Water Use and Forest Flammability

​In eastern upland oak forests, anthropogenic suppression of natural fire has led to the establishment of shade-tolerant species (red maple, hickory, ash) which create damp and dark understory conditions. These species outcompete oaks (a process called mesophication), preventing oak regeneration and leading to dramatic change in forest composition across large swathes of the eastern US. My research seeks to understand:

  1. How water resource distribution by the forest canopy is impacted by difference physical and morphological structures of oaks vs. non-oaks and how this distribution impacts soil and fuel moisture.

  2. How soil biogeochemistry varies among oaks vs. non-oaks.

  3. How prescribed fire as a management tool impacts soil stability, erosion potential, and water quality.

Collaborators: Heather Alexander (Auburn University), Marcus Lashley (University of Florida), Natasha Drotar (MS 2020), Will Kruckeberg (Current MS Student), Maddie Burton (BS 2019)

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