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News from the Hilltop

April 16, 2008

Birmingham-Southern biology professor and students publish paper on effect of fire reintroduction on rare Alabama plants

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. —Birmingham-Southern College Assistant Professor of Biology Scot Duncan and three former BSC students have published a paper in the March 2008 issue of “Restoration Ecology,” the journal of The Society for Ecological Restoration International. The paper, titled “The Effect of Fire Reintroduction on Endemic and Rare Plants of a Southeastern Glade Ecosystem,” includes the results of a 2004-05 study to examine the effect of fire on the plants of cedar glade habitats in Bibb County.

According to the published paper by Duncan and his students, fire was once a frequent natural disturbance in these glades. In many ecosystems, natural disturbances help maintain biodiversity and important ecological processes and should be considered in the planning of conservation and/or ecological restoration efforts. The paper includes the findings from an experiment the BSC scientists conducted to determine how the reintroduction of fire into the glades and surrounding longleaf pine forests affects populations of rare glade plant species.

The glades, many of which are part of the Nature Conservancy's Bibb County Glades Preserve, consist of about 480 acres and are the most biologically diverse piece of land known in the state of Alabama. It is home to about eight endangered plant species found nowhere else in the world and many other rare and endangered plant species. This series of open, treeless habitats is the most botanically diverse location in Alabama, and perhaps the Southeastern U.S.

The information gathered in the experiment was intended to help the Nature Conservancy develop a fire management plan for the preserve and to ensure the survival of the unique glade communities.

BSC students who were co-authors of the paper along with Duncan are Cori Anderson of Madison, Miss., a 2007 BSC graduate; Erin Robbins of North Shelby, a 2005 BSC graduate; and Heather Sellers of Fairhope, a 2006 BSC graduate. All three women were students of Duncan in the biology department at BSC at the time of the experiment.

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