Stand Dynamics in a Southern Appalachian Montane Pine Barren, Warm Springs Mountain, Virginia
Powers, John William
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Virginia's only montane pine barren, located in the Warm Springs Mountain Nature Preserve in the Allegheny Highlands of western Virginia is likely threatened by successional changes initiated by a history of fire suppression. Dominated by early successional fire adapted species, such as dwarfed Pinus rigida (Mill.) and Quercus ilicifolia (Wangenh.), this shrubland is home to numerous rare plants and invertebrates. We used vegetation analysis and dendrochronology to document establishment and recruitment patterns and to identify successional trends at this site. Tree establishment of the dominant tree species (P. rigida and Quercus rubra L.) peaked following the last known fire event in the early 1930s. Vegetation analysis revealed an absence of P. rigida seedling recruitment as well as a low density of fire adapted species such as Q. ilicifolia. In contrast, Q. rubra is represented in a variety of age classes and shade tolerant trees such as Acer rubrum (L.) and Pinus strobus (L.) are beginning to establish. A dense understory of ericaceous shrubs and a thick litter layer appear to inhibit recruitment of P. rigida and other early successional species pointing to the need for active management in the form of prescribed burns, which have been effective in other pine barrens.
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