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Rapid Ecological Integrity Assessment Metrics to Restore Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity for Shortleaf Pine–Oak Ecosystems

Open woodlands dominated by shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata Mill.) and oak are historically an important component of the landscape across the southeastern United States. These ecosystems support numerous wildlife species, many of which have declined in recent years as the amount and condition of their habitat have declined. Land managers and private landowners need guidance on how to efficiently and accurately quantify the condition and wildlife habitat value of the pine stands that they manage. Here we provide a set of rapid assessment metrics, based on NatureServe’s ecological integrity assessment (EIA) method, to (a) identify exemplary tracts that provide the best habitat for key wildlife species, and (b) monitor restoration efforts to assess progress toward the improved quality of existing tracts. To ensure an ecologically appropriate scaling of metrics, we distinguished six types of shortleaf pine–oak woodland: A.—Interior Highlands shortleaf pine–oak (including A.1—shortleaf pine–oak forest and woodlands; A.2—shortleaf pine–bluestem woodlands); B—montane longleaf pine–shortleaf pine woodlands; C—southern Appalachian pine–oak woodlands; D—West Gulf coastal plain shortleaf pine–oak woodlands; and E—southeast coastal plain and Piedmont shortleaf pine–oak woodlands. We relied on a narrative conceptual model and peer review-based indicator selection to identify a core set of 15 stand-level metrics (two were optional). Individual assessment points (thresholds) and ratings (Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor) were developed that were sensitive to the distinct attributes of each of the five shortleaf pine–oak and Appalachian pine–oak types. Values for the metrics can all be collected using rapid field methods, such as using basal area prisms and ocular (visual) estimates of cover. Protocols for the consistent application of these EIA methods are provided. A case study is presented from the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. These methods provide improved and rapid EIA metrics for all shortleaf pine–oak ecosystems in the southeastern US to help guide conservation-minded landowners in assessing the biodiversity and priority wildlife values of shortleaf pine–oak and southern Appalachian pine–oak ecosystems.

Nordman C, Faber-Langendoen D, Baggs J. Rapid Ecological Integrity Assessment Metrics to Restore Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity for Shortleaf Pine–Oak Ecosystems. Forests. 2021; 12(12):1739.