Pyrophytic oak landscapes across the central and eastern United States are losing dominance as shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive, or opportunistic tree species encroach into these ecosystems in the absence of periodic, low-intensity surface fires. Mesophication, a hypothesized process initiated by intentional fire exclusion by which these encroaching species progressively create conditions favorable for their own persistence at the expense of pyrophytic species, is commonly cited as causing this structural and compositional transition. However, many questions remain regarding mesophication and its role in declining oak dominance. In the present article, we review support and key knowledge gaps for the mesophication hypothesis. We then pose avenues for future research that consider which tree species and tree traits create self-perpetuating conditions and under what conditions tree-level processes might affect forest flammability at broader scales. Our goal is to promote research that can better inform restoration and conservation of oak ecosystems experiencing structural and compositional shifts across the region.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)