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Utility of an Instantaneous Moisture Meter for Duff Moisture Prediction in Long-Unburned Longleaf Pine Forests

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Duff fires have been implicated in overstory mortality and soil heating in long-unburned pine forests. In the South's punctuated climate, duff moisture can change rapidly, falling below moisture thresholds that protect trees or increasing after brief downpours. To date, managers lack an instantaneous measure of duff moisture, a hurdle to the implementation of prescribed burns. Here, we evaluate a low-cost tool, the Campbell Scientific Duff Moisture Meter (DMM) 600 (Campbell Scientific, Logan, UT), to estimate duff moisture content in the field. Comparisons of the DMM 600 outputs with paired oven-dried duff fuel samples revealed statistically significant differences, with DMM 600 moisture output explaining 54% of the variation in oven-dried moisture content. Comparisons with previously published data indicate that large variations in duff moisture calculations may predict a broad range of observed duff consumption and overstory tree mortality levels, limiting its applicability for some management objectives. DMM 600 outputs were only weakly correlated with Keetch-Byram drought index (R 2 = 0.30). In addition, we encountered some operational difficulties in prolonged field use. In spite of a few shortcomings, the DMM 600 provides a low-cost tool to assist in prescribed fires where deep forest floor fuels exist.

Keywords: Pinus palustris; forest floor; fuel moisture; prescribed burning; smoldering fire

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2013-02-01

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  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Southern Journal of Applied Forestry covers an area from Virginia and Kentucky south to as far west as Oklahoma and east Texas.
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