The keystone role of oak and hickory in the central hardwood forest
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): J. S. Fralish
Editor(s): M. A. Spetich
Publication Year: 2004

Cataloging Information

  • agriculture
  • Aix sponsa
  • Amelanchier arborea
  • Anas acuta
  • Anas platyrhynchus
  • Arkansas
  • Bonasa umbellus
  • Carya
  • Castor canadensis
  • clearcutting
  • Colaptes auratus
  • Colinus virginianus
  • Corvus brachyrhynchos
  • cover
  • Cyanocitta cristata
  • Dendrocopos pubescens
  • Didelphis virginiana
  • disturbance
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • erosion
  • Euphagus carolinus
  • fire dependent species
  • fire exclusion
  • fire frequency
  • fire regimes
  • fire suppression
  • foliage
  • fruits
  • Glaucomys volans
  • grazing
  • hardwood forests
  • herbaceous vegetation
  • histories
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • insects
  • invasive species
  • Kentucky
  • keystone species
  • land use
  • Lepus californicus melanotis
  • litter
  • logging
  • mast
  • Melanerpes carolinus
  • Melanerpes erythrocephalus
  • mesic soils
  • Missouri
  • Neotoma floridana
  • nongame birds
  • nutrients
  • Ohio
  • Ondatra zibethica
  • overstory
  • Ozarks
  • Parus bicolor
  • Pennsylvania
  • Phasianus colchicus
  • Pheucticus ludovicianus
  • photosynthesis
  • Picoides borealis
  • Pipilo erythrophthalmus
  • plant communities
  • plant growth
  • population density
  • population ecology
  • presettlement fires
  • Procyon lotor
  • Quercus
  • Quercus alba
  • Quercus coccinea
  • Quercus falcata
  • Quercus marilandica
  • Quercus prinus
  • Quercus stellata
  • Quercus velutina
  • Quiscalus quiscula
  • radiation
  • Sciurus carolinensis
  • Sciurus niger
  • seedlings
  • Sitta carolinensis
  • sloping terrain
  • small mammals
  • soil erosion
  • species diversity (animals)
  • species diversity (plants)
  • Sphyrapicus varius
  • Sturnella neglecta
  • Sturnus vulgaris
  • succession
  • Sylvilagus floridanus
  • Tamias striatus
  • Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
  • Tennessee
  • Thryothorus ludovicianus
  • Toxostoma rufum
  • trees
  • Tympanuchus cupido
  • Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
  • understory vegetation
  • Urocyon cinereoargenteus
  • Ursus americanus
  • Vaccinium arboreum
  • Vulpes vulpes
  • wildfires
  • wildlife
  • wildlife food habits
  • wildlife food plants
  • Wisconsin
  • xeric soils
  • Zapus hudsonius
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 9, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 42583
Tall Timbers Record Number: 17684
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: A13.88:SRS-73
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Communities of the central hardwood forest have been dominated primarily by oak and hickory for the past 5000 years. Over this time period, they have become keystone species within the ecosystem and are of major importance in maintaining biodiversity. Not only do the large number of oak and hickory species by themselves contribute to community richness but they are known to provide food and support for a substantial number of wildlife species. Moreover, the structure created by dominance of oak and hickory in the foret community provides an environment for a highly diverse herbaceous understory. Data from oak-hickory stands with a maple-beech understory of saplings and small trees show a 90 percent drop in photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) at ground level accompanied by a 35 percent increase in litter weight compared to stands without an understory. The result is over a 90 percent drop in species richness and cover. This drastic loss of biodiversity, foliage, and fruit has serious implications for insect and bird populations and also suggests a potential for increased soil erosion and loss of nutrients. Extensive research into the loss of biodiversity is advised.

Fralish, J. S. 2004. The keystone role of oak and hickory in the central hardwood forest, in Spetich, M. A., Upland oak ecology symposium: history, current conditions, and sustainability. Fayetteville, AK. USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station,Asheville, NC. p. 78-87,General Technical Report SRS-73.