95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OOS 8-8 - Using prescribed extreme fire to collapse and restore ecological systems: the benefits of quantifying resilience

Tuesday, August 3, 2010: 10:30 AM
301-302, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Dirac Twidwell, Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, William E. Rogers, Ecosystem Science & Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK and Charles A. Taylor Jr., Texas A&M AgriLIFE Research Center

Successful restoration of ecological phases or states hinges upon our ability to shift resilience mechanisms from those that maintain a degraded phase to those that support large amounts of environmental services. Collapsing a degraded phase is often difficult. Sufficient changes in biotic and abiotic factors from the previous phase can reinforce the resilience of a degraded phase, making it resistant to restoration efforts. For restoration to occur, the mechanisms that maintain the degraded phase must be overcome to promote a new set of stabilizing feedbacks. Yet in most restoration efforts the driving feedbacks are reintroduced in a manner consistent with how they stabilized the previous, more productive phase and are typically incapable of collapsing the current, degraded phase. The inability to consistently promote or to mitigate for the collapse of ecological phases demonstrates the need for resilience concepts to be more quantitatively linked with restoration and management techniques.


We show how quantifying resilience can benefit restoration techniques and management planning efforts using a case study of the ecological and social constraints acting upon restoration efforts of a fire-dependent ecosystem at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research Center near Sonora, Texas, USA. We show how prescribed extreme fire can overcome the resilience of an ashe juniper woodland to restore dominance of the more desired oak savanna. Nevertheless, successful restoration of these communities is contingent on the magnitude to which societal constraints limit the occurrence and extent of prescribed extreme fire. We provide an example of a social group that overcame dominant social constraints to apply extreme fires for restoration purposes. We couple this example with our ecological findings to demonstrate the benefits of quantifying ecological resilience within social-ecological systems.