Conservation of the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem: Ecology and Social Context Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Costanza, Jennifer Kwasny
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Curriculum in Environment and Ecology
  • Worldwide, ecosystems are increasingly influenced by human actions and land use. As a result, landscapes include a mosaic of human land uses along with fragments of relatively natural habitat. Effective conservation requires a consideration of both local sites and the broader social and ecological landscape in which they occur. Partnerships among multiple landowners have become a popular way to implement conservation across broad extents because they can be effective at integrating ecological goals with their social context. My research examines how collaborative partnerships conduct conservation in the longleaf pine ecosystem of the US southeast. Longleaf pine communities provide important habitat for many plants and animals, and when frequently burned, can have among the highest levels of plant diversity of any ecosystem in the world. However, the ecosystem has become severely degraded, and several collaborative partnerships have been established with the goal of restoring the ecosystem. My research investigates the relationship between local sites and their ecological and social contexts, and the collaborative partnerships that implement longleaf pine ecosystem conservation. First, I examine the relationship between metrics of landscape heterogeneity and local plant species diversity. I then synthesize the strategies used by three collaborative partnerships in the conservation of longleaf pine ecosystems. Finally, I investigate how decisions are made about prescribed burning, a major management tool for restoring the longleaf pine ecosystem. My results illustrate that heterogeneity in environmental variables measured across a range of scales is related to local plant diversity, suggesting that incorporating broad-scale context into conservation efforts in the longleaf pine ecosystem is important. In addition, a focus on long-term ecosystem sustainability drives the strategies used by successful collaborative partnerships in the longleaf pine ecosystem. However, decisions made by prescribed burn practitioners are risk-averse, and tend to burn sites in good condition, located away from developed areas. Thus, prescribed burning is less likely to accomplish restoration of degraded sites. Finding ways to alleviate the risks associated with burning degraded sites will be crucial for ecosystem restoration. Taken together, my results provide guidelines that will be useful for informing collaborative partnerships and restoring the critically endangered longleaf pine ecosystem.
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  • Moody, Aaron
  • Open access

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