Project Advisor(s)

Dr. Jennifer Burnham, Dr. Reuben Heine, Dr. Christopher Strunk, Dr. Michael Reisner

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Disciplines

Biodiversity | Botany | Environmental Education | Environmental Health | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Monitoring | Forest Management | Geomorphology | Hydrology | Natural Resource Economics | Natural Resources and Conservation | Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Soil Science | Sustainability | Water Resource Management

Description, Abstract, or Artist's Statement

Urban expansion has had devastating impacts on forest ecosystems, especially within the past century. Human attempts to dominate nature have diminished natural disturbance regimes, which have maintained the biodiversity and historic composition of these ecosystems. Fires have been a prominent force in maintaining the structure of oak, hickory and other heliophytic (sun loving and fire-adapted) forest systems. Human induced fire suppression has led to mesophication across North America. Mesophication is the transition from drier conditions with open canopies to wetter conditions with closed canopies. These new conditions decrease the survival rates of these important species and begin to favor mesophytic and invasive species. Without fires to fight off these competitors, the positive feedback loop that is mesophication ensues. In urbanized areas where mesophication has been occurring, forest managers are working to mimic nature by implementing prescribed burns and other restoration techniques. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of prescribed burns within the Chicago metropolitan area, specifically at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Winfield, Illinois. By comparing the species composition within three forest patches at Blackwell that receive varying amounts of prescribed burns, the results helped to determine whether mesophication is occurring and whether the burns are working to combat these issues. The results showed that mesophication has been occurring within this preserve and that implementing prescribed burns does help to maintain historic biodiversity. This is significant for forest managers due to the inevitable loss of biodiversity in urbanized areas experiencing the impacts of mesophication.

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A Quantitative Analysis of the Effects of Urbanization, Mesophication and Prescribed Burns on Oak Woodlands in the Chicago Metropolitan Area

Urban expansion has had devastating impacts on forest ecosystems, especially within the past century. Human attempts to dominate nature have diminished natural disturbance regimes, which have maintained the biodiversity and historic composition of these ecosystems. Fires have been a prominent force in maintaining the structure of oak, hickory and other heliophytic (sun loving and fire-adapted) forest systems. Human induced fire suppression has led to mesophication across North America. Mesophication is the transition from drier conditions with open canopies to wetter conditions with closed canopies. These new conditions decrease the survival rates of these important species and begin to favor mesophytic and invasive species. Without fires to fight off these competitors, the positive feedback loop that is mesophication ensues. In urbanized areas where mesophication has been occurring, forest managers are working to mimic nature by implementing prescribed burns and other restoration techniques. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of prescribed burns within the Chicago metropolitan area, specifically at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Winfield, Illinois. By comparing the species composition within three forest patches at Blackwell that receive varying amounts of prescribed burns, the results helped to determine whether mesophication is occurring and whether the burns are working to combat these issues. The results showed that mesophication has been occurring within this preserve and that implementing prescribed burns does help to maintain historic biodiversity. This is significant for forest managers due to the inevitable loss of biodiversity in urbanized areas experiencing the impacts of mesophication.