Restoring fire to long-unburned Pinus palustris ecosystems: novel fire effects and consequences for long-unburned ecosystems

  • Published source details Varner J.M., Gordon D.R., Putz F.E. & Hiers J. K. (2005) Restoring fire to long-unburned Pinus palustris ecosystems: novel fire effects and consequences for long-unburned ecosystems. Restoration Ecology, 13, 536-544.


Prior to European settlement, southeast USA was covered mostly in pine forest and savanna dominated by longleaf pine Pinus palustris with a floristically diverse understory. Around 97%, of the original estimated 37 million hectares, of this habitat has been logged or converted to farmland, making Longleaf pine habitat among the most threatened ecosystems in the USA. Additional to this, about half of the remnant areas have been degraded by several decades of fire suppression (no or insufficient burn frequency) leading to declines in plant and animal diversity. A conservation goal has been to restore longleaf pinelands, primarily through the reinstatement of historic fire regimes. However, consequences of this management have not always had the desired outcomes.

A review of case studies detailing outcomes of attempts at longleaf pine Pinus palustris ecosystem restoration by fire reintroduction was undertaken. In particular, the review aims were to highlight fire behavior, patterns of tree mortality and unintended outcomes resulting from reintroduction of fire management.

Fire re-introduction in long-unburned longleaf pine stands has had undesirable effects in some localities. Many pineland restoration efforts through fire management have resulted in excessive overstory pine mortality (often greater than 50%) and produced substantial quantities of noxious smoke. This has resulted primarily because of more intense and longer burns attributable to the quantity of accumulated combustable debris. Historically, due to a more frequent burn regime, fires would have been rapid and less intense as less combustable material would have been present. The most evident mechanism of high tree mortality after reintroduction of fire is smouldering of surface layers of organic matter around the bases of old pines.

Conclusions: Southeastern US pinelands are underthreat due to fire suppression, but the reintroduction of fire management often results in the death of a large proportion of the mature residual pines. If fire is to be a useful for restoring remnant stands of longleaf pine, from which it has been excluded for decades, the problem of excessive fire-induced mortality needs to be resolved through development of effective methods to reduce fuels and competing non-native vegetation.

Note: If using or referring to this published study please read and quote the original paper, this can be viewed at:


Output references
What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust