Mastication of understorey shrubs and small trees to reduce fire hazard has become a widespread forest management practice, but few empirical studies have quantified the effects of this mechanical treatment on actual fire behaviour and fire effects at the stand scale. We conducted experimental burns in masticated pine flatwoods with palmetto/gallberry understories, a common ecosystem of the Southern US Coastal Plain. Fire behaviour (flame height, rate of spread) and fire effects were compared between treated and untreated sites burned in the typical winter prescribed burning season. Mastication effectively reduced flame heights by 66%, but recovering shrubs (cover, height) influenced fire behaviour within six months following treatment, suggesting time-limited effectiveness. Trees had less crown scorch and bole char in masticated sites, but tree mortality was minimal on both treated and untreated sites. Consumption of masticated fuel was substantial across both treatments, but little duff was consumed under the moist soil conditions. When burning is conducted soon after treatment, mastication may effectively reduce fire behaviour in pine flatwoods sites, but the duration of treatment efficacy remains unclear.
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