Dr. Heather Alexander, Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology, Auburn University
"Historically pyrophytic and open-canopied upland oak landscapes across the central and eastern U.S. are shifting to closed-canopied forests dominated by shade-tolerant, often fire-sensitive species. Mesophication, a hypothesized process initiated by intentional fire exclusion by which these encroaching species progressively create conditions favorable for their own persistence at the expense of pyrophytic species, is commonly cited as causing this structural and compositional transition. While many forest ecologists and land managers accept the mesophication hypothesis as evidence for these shifts, the reason for these changes is not clear and many questions remain. In this presentation, we will consider current evidence for mesophication plus knowledge gaps and potential future research that considers which tree species and tree traits create self-perpetuating conditions and under what conditions tree-level processes might affect forest flammability at broader scales. The goal is to promote research that can better inform restoration and conservation of oak ecosystems experiencing structural and compositional shifts across the region."