Bearing-tree data were used to calculate an index, pyrophilic percentage, depicting the importance of fire before Euro-American settlement on three landscapes, two within the Prairie Peninsula and one outside the region. Based on functional traits, bearing trees were classified as either pyrophilic or pyrophobic, applied to Public Land Survey points, and the pyrophilic percentage was calculated for each point. Kriging was applied to this point database to create a continuous surface of pyrophilic percentages. Regression analysis was used to relate this surface to environmental factors. Regression models created separately for each study area explained 38 to 53% of the variation in pyrophilic percentage. A positive association between pyrophilic percentage and distance to water and summer potential evapotranspiration was consistent across all study sites. The consistently high values and spatial patterns of pyrophilic percentage revealed fire-dominated landscapes interspersed with patches of pyrophobic vegetation. The restriction of pyrophobic areas to the leeside (east) of waterbodies indicated these served as firebreaks in a fire-swept landscape. Lake Michigan must have had a profound effect on pre- Euro-American settlement fire environments, serving as a massive physical firebreak while casting a moist maritime climate eastward. In southern and southwestern Illinois, the Mississippi River and associated tributaries along with an increase in topographic complexity also served as firebreaks, with pyrophobic forests restricted to riparian zones which progressively graded to pyrophilic vegetation on surrounding uplands. Our analysis expands the use of Public Land Survey data by converting bearing trees into a meaningful fire ecology index. While much of the landscape included in our study area is now in agriculture or urbanized, pyrophilic percentage maps can help guide land managers in the application of fire for restoration, conservation, and forestry purposes.
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