Longleaf pine and other open pine woodlands are a focus of conservation and restoration efforts across the southeastern U.S. Much of this interest is driven by the unique suite of wildlife species associated with open pine woodlands, many of which are rare and declining, such as the gopher tortoise, pine snake species, Bachman’s sparrow, and others. As land managers and conservation practitioners work to restore habitat for these wildlife communities, guidance is needed to help define targets for vegetation structure.
Open pine woodlands are characterized by a moderate stocking of overstory pine, relatively few midstory shrubs, and groundcover dominated by grasses and forbs. Over the years, recommendations for desired conditions of vegetation structure have been developed based more on literature survey and expert opinion rather than field data.
We used thousands of locations obtained from 17 wildlife species that are considered to be open pine specialists and that were studied on Ichauway over the last 20 years. We then quantified the vegetation characteristics at each of these locations using our long-term vegetation monitoring plots. We used these results to determine how existing recommendations matched the animals’ use of open pine habitat onsite.
We found that existing recommendations for shrub cover and basal area of large pines (≥14” dbh) ﬁt well with data from all wildlife species. However, mean basal area of all pines and herbaceous groundcover at sites used by wildlife were lower than the recommended range, whereas canopy cover was well above existing recommendations, suggesting these ranges should be expanded.
These findings could provide managers of open pine ecosystems greater ﬂexibility, allowing them to incorporate a broader suite of objectives in their management while still providing habitat for wildlife species of concern.
McIntyre, R.K., Conner, L.M., Jack, S.B., Schlimm, E.M. and Smith, L.L., 2019. Wildlife habitat condition in open pine woodlands: Field data to refine management targets. Forest ecology and management, 437, pp.282-294. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.01.045