Stop 3. Ecology: Fire-adapted ecosystems falter without flames - Oak Fire Science

Come in summer to the pinery’s Ecology stop on Bennett Road, and you can find colorful wildflowers, buzzing pollinators and bird songs near and far. Among them are fire-adapted species that do not fare well when fire is suppressed.

In our Stop 3 podcast, U.S. Forest Service biologists Erin Yeoman and Frank Thompson tell how the pinery’s restored woodlands are providing homes for fire-adapted birds and plants that have lost habitat elsewhere.

If you can’t be on site when you listen to the podcast, put yourself there in your mind by scrolling through the photos below. Be sure to read the sign, too.

Stop 3 on our Current River Pinery tour is a pine – oak woodland on Bennett Road. Woodlands have open canopies with mature trees and sunlight can reach the ground, allowing growth of grasses and forbs. (Time code 1:20 – 2: 15)

This map shows locations of the 6 million acres of Ozarks’ pine woodlands that existed prior to European settlement. But 90 percent of them are now gone. (Time code 2:17 – 2:33)

Found in only Arkansas (above), Oklahoma, and Missouri, the pine – bluestem woodland ecosystem is globally imperiled, but some of the largest restorable remnants are in the Current River Pinery. Photo: Michael Stambaugh. (Time code 2:33 – 2:48)

The U.S. Forest Service and partner landowners have reintroduced prescribed fire into the pinery in an effort to restore diminished ecosystems. As a result, these woodlands are now supporting deer, turkeys, bears, songbirds, reptiles and insects. (Time code 2:48 – 3:22)

In early June at Stop 3, you might hear the songs of indigo buntings or yellow-breasted chat …. (Time code 3:27 – 4:10)

…. or see pollinators frequenting a blooming butterfly bush. (Time code 3:27 – 4:10)

The area around Stop 3 has been burned six times between 2004 and 2018. Plant biologists have seen an increase in rare species that need need a specific type of ecosystem to thrive, such as purple milkweed and cream wild indigo. (Time code 4:10 – 4:53)

A succession of blooming flowers, like these fire pinks, can be seen throughout the growing season. Common flowers include bee balm, bristly sunflower, and blazing star. Some 350 plant species can be found here, which in turn support 200 species of birds. (Time code 4:53 – 5:40)

The throaty call of the pine warbler can often be heard in the pinery. It is one of several bird species that need pine habitat for survival. Many species that rely on pine woodlands are declining or disappearing nationwide, but the woodlands here make great habitat for them. Photo: Frode Jacobsen. (Time code 5:41 – 6:18)

The layered woodland structure is hospitable to birds that like forests, such as wood thrush and ovenbird, but also to woodland generalists like Eastern wood peewee and summer tanager, and even for those that like open land, like the prairie warbler and yellow-breasted chat. (Time code 6:19 – 6:53)

Due to loss of habitat, some pine-dependent species, like the red-cockaded woodpecker, are no longer found in Missouri. Photo: Greg Lavaty. (Time code 6:53 – 7:31)

Without fire, woodlands develop into forests. Fire in the pinery maintains habitat for pine-dependent birds like this brown-headed nuthatch. Some rare bird species have been returning, with some nesting here successfully.  Photo: Gary Smyle. (Time code 7:32 – 8:29)

Other animals that benefit from fire-maintained woodlands include the Eastern tiger salamander and Western pygmy rattlesnake (both above), and the Indiana bat. Photos: Mo. Dept. of Conservation. (Time code 8:30 – 8: 40)


Stop 3. History: Fire-adapted ecosystems falter without flames

  • Project partners: Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Central Hardwoods Joint Venture, and the Joint Fire Science Program.
  • Podcast series producer, podcast narrator, and field recordings: Denise Henderson Vaughn, Mountain View, Mo.
  • Podcast series theme music: Van Colbert, Willow Springs, Mo., on banjo.
  • Stop 3 podcast interviewees:
    • Erin Yeoman, Natural Resource Specialist, USDA Forest Service, Mark Twain National Forest, Doniphan, Mo.
    • Frank Thompson, Research Wildlife Biologist, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Columbia, Mo.
  • Stop 3 website photos and maps: Vaughn, except as noted in captions or on photos.

Take the Current River Pinery tour in person! Here’s how and where. For a printable map and directions, click here.

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