, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 520–526 | Cite as

Fire in floodplain forests in the southeastern USA: Insights from disturbance ecology of native bamboo

  • Paul R. Gagnon


Floodplain forests in the southeastern USA have recently been the focus of intensive restoration efforts after centuries of human-caused decline. Many of these restored forests appear to suffer from systemic problems arising from the altered disturbance regime in modern southeastern floodplains. Increasing evidence suggests that fire may be an occasional but important ecosystem component missing from these forests. Most relevant literature mentions fire only in passing, if at all; the literature that does discuss fire is typically either speculative or draws heavily from other ecosystems. This article develops the hypothesis that fire has been an important and recurrent disturbance in southeastern alluvial floodplains for millennia. It first synthesizes research indicating that the expansive monodominant bamboo stands (called canebrakes) once common throughout these floodplain forests were likely fire-obligate and might therefore be used as indicators of recurrent fires. It then examines pre-historic, historic, and recent evidence of fire in bottomland forests from both natural and human sources. Finally, it places these findings into ecological context, proposes an integrated study by which future research might clarify the ecological role of fire in southeastern floodplain forests, and addresses some implications for management.

Key Words

Arundinaria gigantea bottomland hardwood forests canebrakes multiple disturbance interactions fire ecology hurricanes tornados windstorms 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Literature Cited

  1. Aust, W. M., J. D. Hodges, and R. L. Johnson. 1985. The origin, growth and development of pure, even-aged stands of bottomland oak. p. 163–170. In E. Shoulders (ed.) Proceedings of the Third Biennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference. USDA Forest Service, New Orleans, LA. GTR-SO-54.Google Scholar
  2. Beckage, B., W. J. Platt, M. G. Slocum, and B. Panko. 2003. Influence of the El Niño Southern Oscillation on fire regimes in the Florida Everglades. Ecology 84: 3124–3130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cirtain, M. C., S. B. Franklin, and S. R. Pezeshki. 2004. Effects of nitrogen and moisture regimes on Arundinaria gigantea (Walt.) Muhl. seedling growth. Natural Areas Journal 24: 251–57.Google Scholar
  4. Collins, B. and L. L. Battaglia. 2007. Oak regeneration in southeastern bottomland hardwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.09.023.Google Scholar
  5. Delcourt, P. A. and H. R. Delcourt. 1987. Long-term Forest Dynamics of the Temperate Zone: A Case Study of Late-Quaternary Forests in Eastern North America. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  6. Ewel, K. C. 1998. Pondcypress swamps. p. 405–20. In M. G. Messina and W. H. Conner (eds.) Southern Forested Wetlands: Ecology and Management. Lewis Publishers, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  7. Foti, T. L. and S. M. Glenn. 1992. The Ouachita Mountain landscape at the time of settlement. p. 49–65. In L. Hedrick and D. Henderson (eds.) Conference Proceedings: Restoring of old growth forests in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Ouachita National Forest, Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development.Google Scholar
  8. Frost, C. C. 2000. Studies in landscape fire ecology and presettlement vegetation of the southeastern United States. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC, USA.Google Scholar
  9. Gagnon, P. R., W. J. Platt, and E. B. Moser. 2007. Response of a native bamboo [Arundinaria gigantea (Walt.) Muhl.] in a winddisturbed forest. Forest Ecology and Management 241: 288–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gagnon, P. R. and W. J. Platt. 2008. Multiple disturbances accelerate clonal growth in a potentially monodominant bamboo. Ecology 89: 612–18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Harper, F. 1958. The Travels of William Bartram: Naturalist’s Edition. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, USA.Google Scholar
  12. Hodges, J. D. 1998. Minor alluvial floodplains. p. 325–41. In M. G. Messina and W. H. Conner (eds.) Southern Forested Wetlands: Ecology and Management. Lewis Publishers, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  13. Holladay, C. A., C. Kwit, and B. Collins. 2006. Woody regeneration in and around aging southern bottomland hardwood forest gaps: Effects of herbivory and gap size. Forest Ecology and Management 223: 218–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hughes, R. H. 1957. Response of cane to burning in the North Carolina coastal plain. North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station. Bulletin 402.Google Scholar
  15. Hughes, R. H. 1966. Fire ecology of canebrakes. p. 149–58. In E. V. Komarek (ed.) Proceedings of Fifth Annual Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL, USA.Google Scholar
  16. Judziewicz, E. J., L. G. Clark, X. Londoño, and M. J. Stern. 1999. American Bamboos. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, DC, USA.Google Scholar
  17. Kaufert, F. H. 1933. Fire and decay injury in the southern bottomland hardwoods. Journal of Forestry 31: 64–67.Google Scholar
  18. Kellison, R. C., M. J. Young, R. R. Braham, and E. J. Jones. 1998. Major alluvial floodplains. p. 291–323. In M. G. Messina and W. H. Conner (eds.) Southern Forested Wetlands: Ecology and Management. Lewis Publishers, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  19. Ker, H. 1816. Travels Through the Western Interior of the United States, From the Year 1808 up to the Year 1816. Elizabethtown, NJ. In M. Saikku (ed.) 2005. This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain. The University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, USA.Google Scholar
  20. King, S. L. and T. J. Antrobus. 2005. Relationships between gap makers and gap fillers in an Arkansas floodplain forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 16: 471–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. King, S. L., J. P. Shepard, K. Ouchley, J. A. Neal, and K. Ouchley. 2005. Bottomland hardwood forests: past, present, and future. p. 1–17. In L. H. Fredrickson, S. L. King, and R. M. Kaminski (eds.) Ecology and management of bottomland hardwood systems: the state of our understanding. University of Missouri-Columbia. Gaylord Memorial Laboratory Special Publication No. 10. Puxico, Missouri, USA.Google Scholar
  22. King, S. L., D. J. Twedt, and R. R. Wilson. 2006. The role of the wetland reserve program in conservation efforts in the Mississippi River alluvial valley. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34: 914–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Komarek, E. V. 1974. Effects of fire on temperate forests and related ecosystems: southeastern United States. p. 1–272. In T. T. Kozlowski and C. E. Algren (eds.) Fire and Ecosystems. Academic Press, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  24. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Potential natural vegetation of the conterminous United States. American Geographical Society, Special Publication Number 36.Google Scholar
  25. Lentz, G. H. 1931. Forest fires in the Mississippi bottomlands. Journal of Forestry 29: 831–32.Google Scholar
  26. Liu, K.-B., H. Lu, and C. Shen. 2008. A 1200-year proxy record of hurricanes and fires from the Gulf of Mexico coast: Testing the hypothesis of hurricane-fire interactions. Quaternary Research 69: 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lu, H. and K. -B. Liu. 2003. Phytoliths of common grasses in the coastal environments of southeastern USA. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 58: 587–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marsh, D. L. 1977. The taxonomy and ecology of cane, Arundinaria gigantea (Walter) Muhlenberg. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Arkansas, Little Rock, USA.Google Scholar
  29. Mann, C. C. 2006. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Vintage Books, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  30. Morse, D. F. and P. A. Morse. 1983. Archaeology of the Central Mississippi Valley. Academic Press, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  31. Myers, R. K. and D. H. Van Lear. 1998. Hurricane-fire interactions in coastal forests of the south: a review and hypothesis. Forest Ecology and Management 103: 265–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Noss, R. F., E. T. LaRoe III, and J. M. Scott. 1995. Endangered ecosystems of the United States: a preliminary assessment of loss and degradation. Biological Report 28. US Department of Interior National Biological Service, p. 58. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  33. Oliver, C. D., E. C. Burkhardt, and D. A. Skojac. 2005. The increasing scarcity of red oaks in Mississippi River floodplain forests: Influence of the residual overstory. Forest Ecology and Management 210: 393–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Olson, M. S. and W. J. Platt. 1995. Effects of habitat and growing season fires on resprouting shrubs in longleaf pine savannas. Vegetatio 119: 101–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Platt, S. G. and C. G. Brantley. 1997. Canebrakes: an ecological and historical perspective. Castanea 62: 8–21.Google Scholar
  36. Platt, S., C. Brantley, and T. Rainwater. 2002a. Canebrakes: Bamboo forests of the Southeast. Wild Earth 12: 39–45.Google Scholar
  37. Platt, W. J. 1999. Southeastern pine savannas. p. 23–51. In R. C. Anderson, J. S. Fralish, and J. Baskin (eds.) The Savanna, Barren, and Rock Outcrop Communities of North America. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.Google Scholar
  38. Platt, W. J., B. Beckage, R. F. Doren, and H. H. Slater. 2002b. Interactions of large-scale disturbances: prior fire regimes and hurricane mortality of savanna pines. Ecology 83: 1566–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Royall, P. D., P. A. Delcourt, and H. R. Delcourt. 1991. Late Quaternary peleoecology and paleoenvironments of the central Mississippi alluvial valley. Geological Society of America Bulletin 103: 157–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Saikku, M. 2005. This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain. The University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, USA.Google Scholar
  41. Sharitz, R. R., L. R. Boring, D. H. Van Lear, and J. E. Pinder III. 1992. Integrating ecological concepts with natural resource management of southern forests. Ecological Applications 2(3): 226–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stanturf, J. A., S. H. Schoenholtz, C. J. Schweitzer, and J. P. Shepard. 2001. Achieving restoration success: myths in bottomland hardwood forests. Restoration Ecology 9(2): 189–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stewart, M. A. 2007. From king cane to king cotton: razing cane in the old South. Environmental History 12: 59–79.Google Scholar
  44. The Nature Conservancy. 1992. Restoration of the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain as a Functional Ecosystem. The Nature Conservancy, Baton Rouge, LA, USA.Google Scholar
  45. Toole, E. R. and J. S. McKnight. 1956. Fire effects in southern hardwoods. Fire Control Notes 17(3): 1–4.Google Scholar
  46. Triplett, J. K., A. S. Weakley, and L. G. Clark. 2006. Hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), a new species of bamboo (Poaceae: Bambusoideae) from the southern Appalachian Mountains. SIDA 22(l): 79–85.Google Scholar
  47. Tudhope, A. W., C. P. Chilcott, M. T. McCulloch, E. R. Cook, J. Chappell, R. M. Ellam, D. W. Lea, J. M. Lough, and G. B. Shimmield. 2001. Variability in the El Niño-Southern Oscillation through a glacial-interglacial cycle. Science 291: 1511–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Wright, H. A. and A. W. Bailey. 1982. Fire Ecology: United States and Southern Canada. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY, USA.Google Scholar
  49. Wilson, R., K. Ribbeck, S. King, and D. Twedt (eds.) Restoration, Management, and Monitoring of Forest Resources in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley: Recommendations for Enhancing Wildlife Habitat. Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture Forest Resource Conservation Working Group, Vicksburg, MS, USA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

Personalised recommendations