In upland oak-pine systems in the eastern United States, mesophication is suppressing oak, hickory, and shortleaf pine regeneration. The forests on the Cumberland Plateau are historically a pyrogenic ecosystem, but due to centuries of fire exclusion, these areas are experiencing a wide-scale conversion to mesic, closed-canopy forests. As a consequence of this habitat conversion, formerly wide-spread species such as shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata Mill.), are disappearing from the landscape. In fact, the shortleaf pine ecosystem has been reduced to only 50% of its natural range over the last 30 years. Consequently, many flora and fauna that rely on shortleaf pine for suitable habitat are declining. Sewanee: The University of the South, is a part of a restoration effort called The Shortleaf Pine Initiative (SPI). The goal of the SPI is to restore shortleaf pine ecosystems and create conditions favorable for shortleaf pine throughout its native range. This restoration project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Service, and is a collaborative effort between Sewanee, Berea College, Tennessee Wildlife Federation, and the Forest Stewards Guild.
During spring 2020, we have monitored shortleaf plantings on the Domain of the University of the South. There are a total of 21 openings where shortleaf has been planted inside three different management compartments. These openings range from a half acre to two acres in size and some plots have been burned since planting. We have assessed seedling density and worked to determine when the openings were created, as well as the timing and the source of shortleaf seedlings. Each plot was inventoried for shortleaf, and the height and diameter of any living
shortleaf was recorded. Our preliminary analysis indicates that shortleaf diameters varied very little among all three compartments, and the annual growth rate across all three compartments was fairly consistent. Shortleaf seedlings in Compartment 22 had an average annual growth rate of 20.2 cm per year, while compartment 46 had an average growth rate of 19.7 cm per year, and compartment 50 experienced a growth rate of 20.2 cm per year.