Year of Publication

2015

Season of Publication

Spring

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)

Department

Biology

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Anthony Rossi

Second Advisor

Dr. Eric Johnson

Third Advisor

Dr. Dale Casamatta

Department Chair

Dr. Daniel Moon

College Dean

Dr. Barbara Hetrick

Abstract

Terrestrial ecosystems in the southeastern United States have evolved with fire as a common disturbance and as a result many natural communities require the presence of fire to persist over time. Human development precludes natural fires from occurring within these communities; however, prescribed fire is considered to be a critical tool in the effort to restore fire-dependent ecosystems after decades of fire exclusion. Direct effects of fire on individual floral and faunal species as well as benefits to biodiversity at the landscape (gamma diversity) level have largely been supported in previous research. However, information on the effects of natural and prescribed fire on plant diversity at the local level (alpha diversity) is limited, particularly for southeastern forests. The applicability of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH), which suggests that the highest levels of biodiversity are found at intermediate levels of disturbance, is also untested for North Florida upland plant communities. This study compared the effects of fire on local scale mean plant species diversity by examining burned and unburned portions of three fire-dependent communities to determine if there is an effect of prescribed fire on in alpha biodiversity. Alpha biodiversity was not significantly different (p=0.433) between burned and unburned fire-dependent plant communities in northern Florida, suggesting that prescribed fire does not affect plant species diversity in these communities and/or the IDH for plant communities is not supported at the time scale tested. However, the application of prescribed fire did result in changes in abundance of species, particularly with species such as Dicanthelium acuminatum, Quercus myrtifolia, and Vaccinium myrsinites, that respond positively to fire, which may have implications for associated faunal diversity.