Effects of Prescribed Burning on Canopy Structure and Water Partitioning in an Upland Oak Forest

Author(s): Drotar, N.; Siegert, C.; Alexander, H.; Varner, J.

The distribution of rainwater by the forest canopy into stemflow (SF), throughfall (TF), and interception (IN) is determined by tree species characteristics, (canopy storage capacity, bark roughness, bark water storage, and bark thickness) as well as canopy position (midstory vs. overstory). In upland oak ecosystems, it is largely unknown how canopy water partitioning varies between co-occurring species, which has broad implications for water availability and forest flammability. Specifically these forests are undergoing a compositional shift from shade-intolerant, fire-tolerant oaks to shade-tolerant, fire-intolerant species (i.e., mesophytes) likely due to anthropogenic fire exclusion. To assess interspecific differences, we measured canopy and bark characteristics on 128 individuals of five different species of overstory and midstory trees (white oak, red oak, mockernut hickory, red maple, and winged elm). We compared these species with rates of stemflow, throughfall, and interception partitioning at monthly time scales.

Preliminary results show that overstory upland oaks partitioned 5.1% of rainfall into stemflow while mesophytic overstory species partitioned 7.2% into stemflow. In the midstory, mesophytes partitioned 1.5% to stemflow, while oak species only partitioned 0.9% to stemflow. These differences are likely manifested in soil moisture surrounding these trees. Results of this study will inform how trees move and store water and provide insights into the effectiveness of prescribed burning to restore and manage upland oak ecosystems.

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