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Fire history of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, southern Florida

March 4, 2015

Fire occurs naturally in the environment on most continents, including Africa (Ryan and Williams, 2011), Asia (Kauhanen, 2008), Australia (Kutt and Woinarski, 2007), Europe (Eshel and others, 2000), South America (Fidelis and others, 2010), and North America (Van Auken, 2000). Antarctica appears to be the only continent that has no reported natural fires, although fire is common in grasslands of Patagonia and on islands in the Subantarctic region (Gonzalez and others, 2005; McGlone and others, 2007).

Natural fires also have occurred over thousands of years, and the frequencies of these natural fires have changed (Power and others, 2008). This has resulted in altered ecosystems at landscape scales. Recent evidence suggests that the treeless desert pastures of Tibet once were forests and woodlands, and charcoal deposits indicate that fire was more frequent in the past (Miehe and others, 2006). Human cultural development has been influenced by changes in natural fire frequencies. Zong and others (2007) reported that human suppression of fires in coastal areas of China allowed the development of rice paddy cultivation and, thus, increased the size of human populations.

In addition to its almost world-wide occurrence, fire plays a role in a wide variety of ecosystem types. Grassland, savanna, steppe, woodland, forest, and wetland ecosystems all have fire as part of their natural ecology (Veblen and Lorenz, 1988; Chokkalingam and others, 2007; Miller and others, 2009, Keith and others, 2010; Staver and others, 2011). Fires affect these ecosystems in various ways, the most obvious of which is the direct effect on plant biomass (for example, Van Wilgen, 1982; Mack and others, 2008). However, fire has many other effects on ecosystems. Plant species richness, diversity, and functional types can change in response to fire (Peterson and Reich, 2008). All properties of the surface soils (such as bulk density, particle size distribution, pH, and organic carbon and nitrogen content) can be altered by the frequency and severity of fire (Boerner and others, 2009). Faunal communities will respond to fire, with some species increasing (Fuhlendorf and others, 2006) and other species decreasing, after the fire (Vasconcelos and others, 2009).The position of the ecotone between differing ecosystems also is influenced by fire occurrence (Heisler and others, 2003; Briggs and others, 2005; Smith and others, 2013).

Fire has been used as a management tool in various ecosystems around the world. Prairies, grasslands, and savannas are fire-maintained ecosystems where fire is used to deter invasion by shrubs and trees (Grant and others, 2009; Scheintaub and others, 2009). Similarly, fire plays an important role in woodlands and forests by influencing species composition and succession such, as the use of fire in coniferous forests to prevent encroachment by hardwoods (Phillippe and others, 2011). Fire also has been used to manage wetland ecosystems for more than 50 years (Lynch, 1941; Frost, 1995). Uses have included returning marshes to early successional states, increasing forage for wildlife (Lynch, 1941). In all fire-influenced ecosystems, prescribed burns are routinely used to reduce fuel loads, reducing the possibility of catastrophic fires.

Publication Year 2015
Title Fire history of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, southern Florida
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151034
Authors Thomas J. Smith, Ann M. Foster, John Jones
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2015-1034
Index ID ofr20151034
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southeast Ecological Science Center