Researchers are conducting controlled burns this week at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center southwest of St. Louis.
The burns are part of a project to study how to restore Ozark glades – rocky forest clearings with native species that resemble those of the desert southwest.
Washington University ecologist and project lead Tiffany Knight says fire is a natural part of glade ecosystems.
“The burn should really cut down on some of the invasive species, especially the invasive grasses that have come in to these systems, and it should help promote the native species that we seeded in that are adapted to deal with fire,” Knight said.
Knight says they’ll need to burn the restoration areas at Tyson for the next couple of winters to help the glades get reestablished.
The broader goal of the project is to try to understand why small-scale ecosystem restoration projects often result in lower-than-expected species diversity.
Knight says factors like the size and shape of a restoration area – and how easily native species can get to it – can all have an impact.
“We’re hoping that with manipulating habitat size, the amount of edge, and the dispersal of organisms, we’ll be able to figure out how to do restorations in a way that maximizes the results in terms of how much biological diversity we’re able to bring back,” Knight said.
Knight says this project is focused on restoring glades, but the same factors could play a role in limiting species diversity in any small-scale restoration project, from forests to wetlands.