Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | September 1, 2018
From Missouri Conservationist: September 2018

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Fire Ecology: Botany Sampling at Chilton Creek

How does periodic fire change an Ozark forest? MDC Resource Scientist Calvin Maginel is working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) staff and others at TNC’s 5,500-acre Chilton Creek Research and Demonstration Area near Van Buren to track the answer to this question.

In partnership with landowners, MDC, and other agencies, TNC launched its long-term, fire-based ecosystem management study in 1997. According to TNC’s website, the goal is to “understand the relationship between biodiversity management and timber and wildlife interests, and to export this knowledge to like-minded partners in the Ozarks.”

TNC’s Land Stewardship and Fire Manager Tom Fielden said that the study partners began offering fire-management workshops to private land managers this year.

Periodically, Fielden conducts a controlled burn on some of the area’s units. During the following growing season, Maginel and other Chilton Creek botanists begin surveying the units’ plant life.

A few months after a winter prescribed fire treatment, Chilton Creek botanists identify plants using quadrats (1-meter wooden squares).

Chilton Creek Management Lessons To Date

They said that in units with scattered species remnants, the application of fire helps restore the remnants’ diversity and vigor. It even reconnects isolated plant communities, such as glades, woodlands, and bottomlands.

This is good news, particularly for pollinators that depend on specialized plants like Bush’s skullcap, which declines in the absence of periodic fire. Like the Missouri Forest Ecosystem Project, the Chilton Creek study will span 100 years or more. Fielden said preliminary results are promising, and Maginel agreed. “This study will tell us whether restoring prescribed fire to natural landscapes also helps restore botanical diversity.”

Chilton Creek Management Lessons To-Date

  • Be patient with the process. Ground-flora diversity increases after 15 years (but not the first 10 years).
  • Expect better turkey habitat. Prescribed fire opens up the forest and encourages grasshoppers, which turkeys feed on heavily in the fall.
  • Prairie plants follow fire. That means more and better habitat for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler