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Fire May be Used to Restore Valuable Native Bamboo
Midwest Region, March 1, 2015
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There has been significant interest in the restoration and rehabilitation of canebrakes through the use of prescribed fire. Continued efforts are needed to assure the survival of this ecosystem.
There has been significant interest in the restoration and rehabilitation of canebrakes through the use of prescribed fire. Continued efforts are needed to assure the survival of this ecosystem. - Photo Credit: Margaret Anderson/USFWS
Brian VanWinkle ignites a burn unit of giant cane. Giant cane is adapted to fire disturbance, and it’s continued survival and success is dependent on it.
Brian VanWinkle ignites a burn unit of giant cane. Giant cane is adapted to fire disturbance, and it’s continued survival and success is dependent on it. - Photo Credit: Margaret Anderson/USFWS
Giant cane culms emerging from the ashes of a recent prescribed burn. Historically, fire was responsible for stimulating cane regeneration from sprouts.
Giant cane culms emerging from the ashes of a recent prescribed burn. Historically, fire was responsible for stimulating cane regeneration from sprouts. - Photo Credit: Margaret Anderson/USFWS
Canebrakes provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Declines in several associated species has been associated with the loss of cane habitat.
Canebrakes provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species. Declines in several associated species has been associated with the loss of cane habitat. - Photo Credit: Margaret Anderson/USFWS

Did you know that a species of bamboo once covered thousands of acres of the southern United States? It is hard to imagine that the remnant stands still present today used to stretch for miles, but efforts are underway to bring this rare ecosystem back to southern Illinois.
Giant cane [Arundinaria gigantea (Walt) Muhl.] is a bamboo native to North America and is at its northern-most location at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in southern Illinois. It is an integral component of bottomland forests and occurs as monodominant stands, also known as canebrakes. Canebrakes are unique ecosystem, providing habitat for over 50 species including small mammals, migratory birds, reptiles, amphibians, moths and butterflies.

As a result of land conversion, overgrazing and altered fire regimes, 98% of canebrake ecosystems have been eliminated. While canebrakes still occur, they have been reduced to patches along streams, forests, fields and bottomland hardwoods. Due to the ecological significance of giant cane as wildlife habitat, a riparian buffer and its role in soil stabilization, restoration interest has increased. Giant cane is a disturbance driven species, and thrives in events such as wind storms or fires. Historically, natural disturbances such as these maintained the size and vigor of canebrakes, and researchers are using this information to help guide land managers in enhancing the species.

Southern Illinois University (SIU) recently partnered with Cypress Creek NWR in order to explore the effects of prescribed fire and fertilization on the growth and spread of existing canebrakes. Surprisingly, fertilization did not significantly affect the growth or expansion of cane. However, fire was a different story! The fire consumed a portion of existing culms (individual cane stems) and in some cases left the canebrake completely in ashes. The canebrake emerged vigorously with stimulation of twice as many new culms, demonstrating prescribed fire’s utility as a tool for land managers to reduce competition and increase canebrake health and expansion.
As the loss of canebrake habitat continues, restoration and rehabilitation of giant cane becomes more critical. Thanks to the research conducted by SIU and Cypress Creek NWR, land managers may consider prescribed fire as a tool for restoring this remnant habitat. For more information on this research, please contact Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge Biologist, Karen Mangan (618-634-2231).


Giant Cane Rehabilitation via Prescribed Burning
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi-2OoPdEnA&feature=youtu.be
Contact Info: Margaret Anderson, 309-292-6339, margaret1_anderson@fws.gov
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