Prescription side effects: Controlled burn impacts on soil biogeochemistry and forest dynamics

Controlled burning is a common restoration technique in midwestern forests. This project examines its effects on soils, which are largely unknown, but can have significant impacts on tree growth and young tree establishment. 

Quinn Taylor, 2016 Undergraduate Research Fellow, collecting collecting a soil sample from the unburned forest in The Morton Arboretum’s East Woods in July 2016.


In eastern deciduous forests, burning is a common forest management technique used to control invasive understory plants, such as buckthorn and thistle, and promote oak regeneration. However, little is known about how controlled burns impact soils – as alterations to soil can affect plant growth and competition, changes in the soil may enhance or dampen the desired impacts of controlled burning. In this study, we are assessing the impacts of controlled burning on soil biogeochemistry by comparing adjacent annually burned and historically unburned forests in The Morton Arboretum’s East Woods. Additionally, we are conducting a meta-analysis to assess the extent to which burning impacts on soils mediate burning impacts on tree seedlings and invasive species across the Eastern US. Understanding the effects of burning on soil will help land managers create and modify management practices for the promotion or oaks, or any other species. 

Funding Sources

The Morton Arboretum

Project Status