Date of Award

Spring 5-2014

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Micheal Davis

Advisor Department

Biological Sciences


The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is major forest constituent of the Southern Coastal Plains of the United States. Ecologically, a virgin longleaf pine forests supports increased species richness. Since the 1800s, longleaf pine forests have been exploited as a massive source of commercial products (e.g., lumber, pulp, and naval stores). A decrease in species richness has been recorded following this vast decrease in longleaf pine presence. Rebuilding the longleaf pine ecosystem is essential for restoring species richness and maintaining the ecological health of many Costal Plains habitats. Presently, the most popular restoration and management method utilized is prescribed burning. Prescribed burnings allow small, controlled fires to safely mimic the effects of naturally occurring wildfires. More recently, interest in the use of prescribed burning in the longleaf pine forests has increased because of the potential applications for reducing forests floor fuel loads and increasing species richness. A lesser-known practice of restoration is the implementation of grazing by cattle populations. Previous studies have shown an increase in species richness and a decrease in litter-cover when sites were introduced to grazing. Little research studying the interactions between grazing and prescribed burning has been conducted, however. We studied the effects of prescribed burns and grazing at the Longleaf Preserve, located in the Lake Thoreau Environmental Research Center (LTEC) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A series of treatment sites were constructed to determine the influence of grazing by pineywoods cattle and prescribed burns on plant diversity and physiognomy of the forest floor. These sites were subjected to four different treatments in an attempt to replicate current environmental conditions. v Fuel loads (i.e., available material for burning) were assessed by collecting data on fine and course litter (e.g., fallen leaves, twigs, branches), as well as, understory plant species richness. The litter samples were collected, dried, and placed on a scale to determine weight. The plant species within each sample were then separated based on morphology. The preliminary results indicate that combining pineywoods cattle grazing with a prescribed burning regimen is an effective means of decreasing leaf-litter cover and increasing species richness on the forest floor.