Duff fires (smouldering in fermentation and humus forest floor horizons) and their consequences have been documented in fire-excluded ecosystems but with little attention to their underlying drivers. Duff characteristics influence the ignition and spread of smouldering fires, and their spatial patterns on the forest floor may be an important link to the heterogeneity of consumption observed following fires. We evaluated fuel bed characteristics (depths, bulk densities, and moisture) of duff in a long-unburned longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) forest and corresponding spatial variation across 100 to 103 m scales. Fermentation and humus horizon depths both varied (~100% coefficient of variation) but with moderate to strong spatial autocorrelation at fine scales. Fermentation bulk density varied less than humus bulk density, which varied considerably at fine scales. Fermentation horizons held more moisture (average 49%-172%) and were much more variable than humus following rainfall, which remained stable and relatively dry (average 28%-62%). Humus moisture was moderately autocorrelated at fine scales, but fermentation moisture was highly variable, showing no evidence of spatial autocorrelation under dry, intermediate, or wet conditions. Observations from this study highlight the underlying spatial variability in duff, informing future sampling and fire management efforts in these long-unburned coniferous forests.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change