As many of you know, the James Farm Ecological Preserve experienced a small fire back in February. Thankfully, a visitor to the Farm called the Millville Fire Company who responded quickly, limiting the damage to a charred area down near the beach – an area less than one acre. Also thankfully, no injuries were reported and no structures were damaged.
So since spring is here, and that section of land is beginning to regrow, let’s talk about the effects that an event like this can have on an ecosystem. While a marsh fire is certainly not something that we want – a situation like this is not all doom and gloom. In fact, this gives us the opportunity to observe a natural phenomenon at work: ecological succession.
So what is ecological succession?
At its simplest, this is a change in the types of species (of trees and critters alike) found in an ecosystem over time. Naturally, ecosystems are constantly changing and growing: Plants grow and overtake each other, pests and animals consume and alter the local flora, floods and fires occur, etc.. And as you may imagine, such changes can be observed over both short and large spans of time.
There are three types of succession: primary (when a new ecosystem is established), secondary (when an ecosystem is altered by damage), and climax (when an ecosystem is stable). At site of the James Farm fire, we are seeing secondary succession. The previously established edge habitat has been damaged and must regrow, establishing a few changes along the way.
Previously, this area was a transitional zone between high marsh and maritime forest, consisting of American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), groundsel (Baccharis halimifolia), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), and greenbrier (Smilax spp.). While it is expected that those first three will return, we are particularly interested in seeing if the greenbrier will return. (Often, controlled burns are used to clear stubborn green briar from the undergrowth around larger loblolly pines.)
So as the area grows, keep an eye out for growing plants and possibly some different bird and animal species drawn to these new growths.
Once again, THANK YOU to the Millville Fire Company for their prompt response and action – and thank you to the concerned visitor who called it in!