Fire, Fire regime, HFire model, Florida, Managed fire regime, Lightning, Lightning fire, Remote Sensing, Remote Sensing of fire


Our understanding of natural fire regimes in human-dominated landscapes is limited. Fire regimes operating in the pyrogenic ecosystems of Florida have been altered by fire suppression and fuel fragmentation. This is especially true of North Merritt Island, Florida, where human impacts have led to an incomplete knowledge of current fire regimes. We know that growing season fires frequently occurred within general return intervals and that many native terrestrial species require fire to remain viable. A 20-year plus period of fire suppression caused structural and compositional changes to vegetation/fuels that led to catastrophic fires and the decline of native species populations such as the Florida Scrub-Jay. Fire has been reintroduced as a means to reduce fuels and maintain habitat requirements for native species. Scientific studies have documented the effects and benefits of prescribed burning on KSC/MINWR habitat/fuels structure. The necessity for fire to maintain vegetation/fuels structure and composition on the landscape is clear so fire is being applied to the landscape despite our imperfect knowledge of the native fire regime. It is imperative for the survival of many native species that fire managers be able to mimic the results of the native fire regime. Fire regime research is difficult in shrublands, and using dendrochronologic techniques are often not possible in flatwoods communities. I therefore used a process of remote sensing, GIS mapping, and spatial modeling to quantify lightning fire ignition properties, the current managed fire regime, and the natural fire regime. Chapter one develops a new remote sensing technique to accurately map burned areas in Florida scrub and pine flatwoods dominated communities on Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. At the center of this technique is a newly developed separation index (SI) that was used to evaluate each individual satellite image band for its power to discriminate unburned and burned areas. Burned areas were classified and found to be highly accurate in relation to empirical fire records. This chapter addressed a number of issues relevant to the classification of burned areas including: the effect of geographic extent of remote sensing data on classification, determining the best bands for classification, and cleaning classification results by using GIS masking. It also serves as the first published effort to map fire scars in the Florida scrub and flatwoods vegetative communities of the southeastern U.S. using image processing techniques. Chapter two quantified a managed fire regime on John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida and surrounding federal properties by mapping all fires between 1983 to 2005 using the image processing technique developed in chapter one, time series satellite imagery, and GIS techniques. The goals were to: (1) determine if an image processing technique designed for individual fire scar mapping could be applied to an image time series for mapping a managed fire regime in a rapid re-growth pyrogenic system; (2) develop a method for labeling mapped fire scar confidence knowing that a formal accuracy analysis was not possible; and (3) compare results of the managed fire regime with regional information on natural fire regimes to look for similarities/differences that might help optimize management for persistence of native fire-dependent species. The area burned by managed fire peaked when the drought index was low and was reduced when the drought index was high. This contrasts with the expectations regarding the natural fire regime of this region. Chapter three quantified the natural lightning ignition regime on Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Lightning is the natural ignition source in Florida, substantiating the need for understanding lightning fire incidence. Sixteen years of lightning data (1986-2003, excluding 1987 and 2002 due to missing data) from the NASA Cloud to Ground Lightning Surveillance System and fire ignition records were used to quantify the relationship between lightning incidence and fire ignition. Precipitation influenced the efficiency of lightning ignitions, particularly July precipitation. Negative polarity strikes caused the majority of ignitions. Pine flatwoods was ignited more frequently than expected given equal chance of ignition among landcover types. About half (51%) of detected fires were instantaneous ignitions and the other 49% were delayed an average of two days. Summer lightning ignitions were dominant, especially during July, with only one winter lightning ignition. Chapter four used an existing fire regime model (HFire) to simulate the natural fire regime (prior to European settlement) on Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. A sensitivity analysis was performed to establish which parameters were most important and the range of variation surrounding empirically derived model information from the same model. A mosaic pattern of small fires dominated this fire regime with extremely large fires occurring during dry La Nina periods. Dead fuel moisture and wind speed had the largest influence on model outcome. The majority of variability was found to be in the largest fires. The research presenter here provides a comprehensive perspective on current and historic fire regimes that may be useful for optimizing land management on Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and throughout the southeastern United States. Native fire dependent species are suffering from many changes imposed from human alteration. The success of conservation efforts protecting native fire dependent species hinge on my factors. Two of the largest factors are first protecting native habitat and then secondly managing that protected habitat to mimic natural maintenance processes for suitable structure and composition which may favor their demography. This study focuses on developing techniques necessary for producing information that can aid the optimization of fire management on these properties and within the southeastern United States, but may be useful in other fire maintained ecosystems globally.


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Graduation Date



Weishampel, John


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Conservation Biology








Release Date

October 2009

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Biology Commons