National Key Deer Refuge
Southeast Region
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Florida Keys Fire History

Fire History of Lower Keys Pine Rocklands (Bergh and Wisby, 1996)
The GIS (Geographic Information System)-based images and data contained in this fire history report covers the period from 1960s-1996.  The document was intended to provide background for the planning of prescribed burning activities in the Lower Florida Keys.

Sediment Records of Fire and Vegetation History from Solution Holes in The National Key Deer Refuge, Monroe County, Florida (Horn, 2008)
A grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded an investigation of sedimentary charcoal and pollen in solution holes in pine rocklands of the National Key Deer Refuge, Monroe County, Florida, as a means of obtaining evidence of past fire and vegetation that can inform conservation and management. This reports describes the field work, the nature and ages of the sediments cored, and the charcoal and pollen evidence of past fire and vegetation preserved in the sediments. Additional results and interpretation are included in Joshua Albritton’s M.S. thesis, 2009.

A 1700-year History of Fire and Vegetation in Pine Rocklands of National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key, Florida: Charcoal and Pollen Evidence from Key Deer Pond (Albritton, 2009)pdf icon
The thesis resulting from the investigation of sedimentary charcoal and pollen in solution holes in pine rocklands of the National Key Deer Refuge, Monroe County, Florida, as a means of obtaining evidence of past fire and vegetation that can inform conservation and management. Key Deer Pond (24° 42′ 29.50″ N, 81° 22′ 36.12″ W; ca. 2 m elevation) is a small freshwater pond in a solution hole located within the pine rocklands of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, Florida. Overlapping sediment core sections and a surface grab sample from Key Deer Pond were subjected to pollen, microscopic charcoal, and loss-on-ignition analyses to investigate late-Holocene climate, fire occurrence, and vegetation-fire relationships in pine rockland ecosystems. Macroscopic charcoal from the uppermost meter of the profile was studied to provide a more detailed history of local fire occurrence.


Controlled Burns

Developing Ecological Criteria for Prescribed Fire in South Florida Pine Rockland Ecosystems (Final Report) (Snyder et al., 2005)pdf icon
The results of a 4-year research study which explored a range of fire management options in NKDR. The intent of the study was to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service and other land managers with information regarding when and where to burn in order to perpetuate these unique Pine Rockland forests.

Controlled Burning in Habitat Management: Some Observations, National Key Deer Refuge (Klimstra, 1986)pdf icon
This paper synthesizes Klimstra's research and observations from 1967-1986 while he was doing wildlife research in at National Key Deer Refuge.

The Role of Indigenous Burning in Land Management (Kimmerer and Lake, 2001)
This article highlights the findings of the literature on aboriginal fire from the human- and the land-centered disciplines, and suggests that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples be incorporated into plans for reintroducing fire to the nation’s forests. Traditional knowledge represents the outcome of long experimentation with application of fire by indigenous people, which can inform contemporary policy discussions.


Rare Plants

Post-Hurricane Responses of Rare Plant Species and Vegetation of Pine Rocklands in the Lower Florida Keys (Bradley and Saha, 2009)pdf icon
The present study was conducted to assess the impacts of Hurricane Wilma on each of the three target plant species (Wedge sandmat, Chamaesyce deltoidea subsp. serpyllum; Big Pine Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis; Sand flax, Linum arenicola) and pine rockland vegetation two-years after the hurricane in all islands with pine rockland vegetation in the lower Florida Keys. The study expanded to quantify vegetation structure on each island and include data on fire history in analyses to determine fire effects on target species and vegetation.

Responses of Rare Plant Species to Fire in Florida’s Pyrogenic Communities (Slapcinsky et al., 2010)
A review of 14 years of monitoring data for 18 rare plant species from 14 families occurring on sandhill, scrub, pine rockland, and mixed deciduous hardwood communities across Florida to quantify post fire response.  None of the species were unable to recover post-burn. These results suggest that prescribed fire in these pyrogenic habitats need not be delayed until species-specific responses to fire are understood.

The Distribution and Habitat Preferences of Rare Galactia Species (Fabaceae) and Chamaesyce deltoidea Subspecies (Euphorbiaceae) native to Southern Florida Pine Rockland (O’Brien 1998)
A study of the habitat preferences and distributions of four species of the legume genus Galactia P. Browne and three subspecies of Chamaesyce deltoid (Engelmann) Small native to pine rockland. Two Galactia, G. pinetorum and G. smallii, and all three C. deltoidea subspecies are rare and restricted to pine rockland. The other two Galactia, G. jloridana and G. parvifolia, are widespread outside southern Florida. A strong soil gradient was found to explain the distribution of the endemic Galactia and Chamaesyce taxa and G. floridana, one of the widespread species. Several other pine rockland endemic taxa and two invasive pest plants also responded to the soil gradient. Other factors correlated to endemic plant density were exotic plant cover, site elevation, and fire history.

Effects of Fire Intensity on Vital Rates of an Endemic Herb of the Florida Keys, USA (Liu et al., 2005)
This study explores the effects of fire intensity on population vital rates of Chamaecrista keyensis Pennell (Fabaceae) up to two years post-fire. C. keyensis is an endemic understory plant of pine rockland, a fire-dependent ecosystem of the Lower Florida Keys. Results from this study suggest that extremely low fire intensity caused by very short fire return intervals (e.g., less than three years) may not provide sufficient stimulation to reproduction to achieve the best post-fire recovery for C. keyensis.


Pine Rocklands

Estimating aboveground biomass of broadleaved woody plants in the understory of Florida Keys Pine Forests (Sah et al., 2004)
Species-specific allometric equations that provide estimates of biomass from measured plant attributes are currently unavailable for shrubs common to South Florida pine rocklands, where fire plays an important part in shaping the structure and function of ecosystems. Researchers developed equations to estimate total aboveground biomass and fine fuel of 10 common hardwood species in the shrub layer of pine forests of the lower Florida Keys. Estimates based on species-specific equations indicated clearly that total aboveground shrub biomass and shrub fine fuel increased with time since last fire, but the relationships were non-linear. The relative proportion of biomass constituted by the major species also varied with stand age. Estimates based on mixed-species regressions differed slightly from estimates based on species-specific models, but the former could provide useful approximations in similar forests where species specific regressions are not yet available.

Fuel Loads, Fire Regimes, and Post-Fire Fuel Dynamics in Florida Keys Pine Forests (Sah et al., 2006)
Researchers examined the distribution of fuel components before fire, their effects on fire behavior, the effects of seasonality, and the effects of fire on subsequent fuel recovery in pine forests within the National Key Deer Refuge in the Florida Keys.

Seasonal Wood Formations Dynamics of Slash Pine (Pinus elliottie var. densa) in the Lower Florida Keys, U.S.A. (Harley and Frissino – Mayer, PhD)pdf icon
Power Point Presentation.

Multi-species recovery Plan for South Florida: Pine Rocklands (1990)pdf icon
The USFWS recovery plan for multiple listed species in the Pine Rocklands of South Florida.

Pine Rocklands FWC Wildlife Strategypdf icon
Pine Rocklands Habitat description, associated species of greatest conservation need, conservation threats, and conservation actions.
Fire Managers Field Guide: hazardous Fuels management in Subtropical Pine Flatwoods and Tropical Pine Rocklands (O’Brien et al., 2010)pdf icon

This document  is intended to provide an overview of current techniques and tactics for managing hazardous fuels in the tropical and subtropical pine forests of Florida, the Bahamas, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The information presented here was distilled from peer-reviewed literature, technical reports, and the experiences of on-the-ground fire managers.


Fire Management Considerations

National Key Deer Refuge – Desired Future Conditions for Fire-maintained Habitats (Myers, 2010)pdf icon
Results and Synthesis of a Fire Management and Fire Ecology Experts’ Workshop.
Living with Fire – Sustaining Ecosystems and Livelihoods through Integrated Fire Management (Myers, 2006)pdf icon
The primary premise of this paper is that more sophisticated fire management technologies are not likely to solve the problem of destructive wildfires, nor are they going to be effective in re-establishing ecologically appropriate fire regimes in places that need to burn. This paper sets forth a framework that we are calling Integrated Fire Management which leads to ecologically and socially appropriate approaches to managing fires and addressing fire-related threats on conservation lands.

Disturbance and the Rising Tide: The Challenge of Biodiversity Management on Low-island Ecosystems (Ross et al., 2009)pdf icon
Sea-level rise presents an imminent threat to freshwater-dependent ecosystems on small oceanic islands, which often harbor rare and endemic taxa. Conservation of these assemblages is complicated by feedbacks between sea level and recurring pulse disturbances (eg hurricanes, fire). Once sea level reaches a critical level, the transition from a landscape characterized by mesophytic upland forests and freshwater wetlands to one dominated by mangroves can occur suddenly, following a single storm-surge event. We document such a trajectory, unfolding today in the Florida Keys and propose a strategy that combines the identification and intensive management of the most defensible core sites within a broader reserve system, in which refugia for biota facing local extirpation may be sought.

Fire in South Florida Ecosystems (Wade et al., 1980).
This compendium of fire information for selected south Florida vegetative communities is to help resource managers and policymakers to better predict the consequences of their fire management decisions. The effect of fire on attainment of resource management objectives and the necessity of integrating fire planning into the land management planning process are explained. Available information about fire effects is presented for each of the major vegetative types in south Florida, and fire’s relationship with certain exotic species is discussed.



Tree Encroachment of a Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) Marsh within an Increasingly Urbanized Ecosystem (Knickerbocker et al., 2009)pdf icon
Fire suppression and altered water drainage often change community structure and species composition in human-dominated ecosystems. We describe the decline of sawgrass marshes between 1940 and 2002, and assess the current condition of remnant marshes within the MacKay Tract, an isolated wetland embedded within rapidly developing eastern Orlando, Florida. We tested the correlation between live sawgrass and presence of adult hardwood trees and seedlings (primarily red maple, Acer rubrum) and describe vegetation in plots with different levels of tree encroachment. Without intervention (e.g., restoring hydrologic flow and fire), the sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense Crantz) area within the marsh will continue being replaced by woody and exotic species.



On This Page...

Florida Keys Fire History
Controlled Burns
Rare Plants
Pine Rocklands
Fire Management Considerations

A prescribed burn in a thinned area near homes on Big Pine Key
A prescribed burn thinned fuels adjacent to this Big Pine home.  Photo: USFWS.

Last updated: October 27, 2011