Photo of prescribed fire at Griffith Woods. Photo by Steve Patton

Prescribed fire at Griffith Woods. Photo by Steve Patton.

Because the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky was settled so quickly in the 1700s, we know little about the ecology of this unique landscape. Historical accounts suggest a mosaic of forest, savanna, and openings filled with giant cane. Griffith Woods is a wildlife management area in Harrison County that protects some of the best remnants of this habitat type, commonly referred to as savanna-woodland. 

In 2007, Dr. John Cox (current Assistant Professor of Conservation Biology in the Department of Forestry), was the site manager for Griffith Woods and received a USDA Precision Resource Management Grant to initiate tree studies of this area. In 2010, graduate student Jim Shaffer, plant ecologist Dr. Scott Gleeson, and silviculturalist Dr. John Lhotka, joined the research team that seeks to characterize how 14 common Bluegrass tree species are impacted by important ecological factors including competition, herbivory, and fire.

After 5 years of patiently monitoring and measuring the growth of nearly 6500 tree seedlings, on March 7, 2016 fire was applied by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel to some experimental blocks of trees.

See video of burn.

Given this unique opportunity to study fire behavior in the Bluegrass, landscape ecologist Dr. Jian Yang and forest management researcher Dr. Marco Contreras, with help from UK Ag drone pilots, gathered aerial data they will use to construct a model of fire behavior. Collectively, the research at Griffith Woods should provide a better understanding of individual tree ecology, enhance our knowledge about historical disturbances that shaped central Kentucky’s ecological communities, and help inform our management of this globally imperiled landscape. 

Author: John Cox
Contact: (859) 257-9507,
Terms: Research