Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies


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In view of the media focus on forest fires and their impacts, even in ‘the wrong countries’, a new systematic review of prescribed burning is timely. Prescribed burning, also known as controlled burning or planned burning, is used as an active management tool to enhance and maintain habitats for biodiversity outcomes. Prescribed burning is also commonly used for the purpose of mitigating wildfire risk by managing the accumulation of fuel in forests when and where necessary. The review was financed by the Mistra Council for Evidence-Based Environmental Management (EviEM). Following best practice for systematic review, searches generated a total of 12,971 unique records, which were filtered down to 235 articles. Most studied forests were located in the USA, with the rest located in Canada, Europe and Australia. Prescribed burning had significant positive effects on vascular plant richness, non-native vascular plant richness, and in broadleaf forests, herbaceous plant richness. Time since the burn, forest type and climate zone were significant moderators predicting the effect of burning on herbaceous plant richness. No other significant relationships were identified. It is noted that outcomes are difficult to predict, and any restoration project should include a component of monitoring to build a stronger evidence base for recommendations and guidelines on how to best achieve conservation targets. Prescribed burning may have harmful effects on taxa that are conservation-dependent and careful planning is needed.

Reference: Eales J, Haddaway NR, Bernes C, Cooke SJ, Jonsson BG, Kouki J, Petrokofsky G, Taylor JJ: What is the effect of prescribed burning in temperate and boreal forest on biodiversity, beyond pyrophilous and saproxylic species? A systematic review. Environmental Evidence 2018, 7(1):19. DOI:10.1186/s13750-018-0131-5.

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