Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Open-File Report 2015–1034

Prepared in cooperation with Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve

Fire History of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, Southern Florida

By Thomas J. Smith III, Ann M. Foster, and John W. Jones

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (24.3 MB)Introduction

Fire occurs naturally in the environment on most continents, including Africa (Ryan and Williams, 2011), Asia (Kauhanen, 2008), Australia (Kutt and Woinarski, 2007), Europe (Eshel and others, 2000), South America (Fidelis and others, 2010), and North America (Van Auken, 2000). Antarctica appears to be the only continent that has no reported natural fires, although fire is common in grasslands of Patagonia and on islands in the Subantarctic region (Gonzalez and others, 2005; McGlone and others, 2007).

Natural fires also have occurred over thousands of years, and the frequencies of these natural fires have changed (Power and others, 2008). This has resulted in altered ecosystems at landscape scales. Recent evidence suggests that the treeless desert pastures of Tibet once were forests and woodlands, and charcoal deposits indicate that fire was more frequent in the past (Miehe and others, 2006). Human cultural development has been influenced by changes in natural fire frequencies. Zong and others (2007) reported that human suppression of fires in coastal areas of China allowed the development of rice paddy cultivation and, thus, increased the size of human populations.

In addition to its almost world-wide occurrence, fire plays a role in a wide variety of ecosystem types. Grassland, savanna, steppe, woodland, forest, and wetland ecosystems all have fire as part of their natural ecology (Veblen and Lorenz, 1988; Chokkalingam and others, 2007; Miller and others, 2009, Keith and others, 2010; Staver and others, 2011). Fires affect these ecosystems in various ways, the most obvious of which is the direct effect on plant biomass (for example, Van Wilgen, 1982; Mack and others, 2008). However, fire has many other effects on ecosystems. Plant species richness, diversity, and functional types can change in response to fire (Peterson and Reich, 2008). All properties of the surface soils (such as bulk density, particle size distribution, pH, and organic carbon and nitrogen content) can be altered by the frequency and severity of fire (Boerner and others, 2009). Faunal communities will respond to fire, with some species increasing (Fuhlendorf and others, 2006) and other species decreasing, after the fire (Vasconcelos and others, 2009).The position of the ecotone between differing ecosystems also is influenced by fire occurrence (Heisler and others, 2003; Briggs and others, 2005; Smith and others, 2013).

Fire has been used as a management tool in various ecosystems around the world. Prairies, grasslands, and savannas are fire-maintained ecosystems where fire is used to deter invasion by shrubs and trees (Grant and others, 2009; Scheintaub and others, 2009). Similarly, fire plays an important role in woodlands and forests by influencing species composition and succession such, as the use of fire in coniferous forests to prevent encroachment by hardwoods (Phillippe and others, 2011). Fire also has been used to manage wetland ecosystems for more than 50 years (Lynch, 1941; Frost, 1995). Uses have included returning marshes to early successional states, increasing forage for wildlife (Lynch, 1941). In all fire-influenced ecosystems, prescribed burns are routinely used to reduce fuel loads, reducing the possibility of catastrophic fires.

First posted March 4, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Southeast Ecological Science Center
7920 NW 71st Street
Gainesville, FL 32653

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). For best results viewing and printing PDF documents, it is recommended that you download the documents to your computer and open them with Adobe Reader. PDF documents opened from your browser may not display or print as intended. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge. More information about viewing, downloading, and printing report files can be found here.

Suggested citation:

Smith, T.J., III, Foster, A.M., and Jones, J.W., 2015, Fire history of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, southern Florida: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1034, 86 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



Fire in Southern Florida and the Everglades


Results and Discussion


References Cited

Appendix A. Maps of Fires in Everglades National Park by Year

Appendix B. Maps of Fires in Big Cypress National Preserve by Year

Appendix C. Proposed National Park Service Spatial Data Standards for Fire History

Appendix D. Fire Project Information and Data Entry Protocol

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, December 07, 2016, 09:40:25 PM