The study of tree rings can yield critical clues about landscape history such as fire frequency and timing of wildfire and whether a site was once occupied by forest 200 years ago or open savanna. Unfortunately, large areas of the southeastern U.S. have had little to no dendroecological research.
Understanding fire in a historic savanna landscape of central tennessee
A 2016 study conducted by Mike Stambaugh (Univ. of Missouri) and colleagues evaluated data obtained from tree rings from dozens of old post oaks from Arnold Air Force Base (AAFB), Coffee Co., Tennessee. They sampled trees dating back to the 1610s and showed that for much of the past 400 years the landscape at AAFB burned every 3-5 years. Such frequent occurrences of fire would have been sufficient to maintain extensive oak savannas in the region. The tree ring record documents the suppression of fire that began in the 1800s. This suppression eventually led to the rapid loss of savannas as closed forests developed. Such studies are important to helping informing modern management and conservation efforts.