Michael Tiller's thesis, "Effects of Yaupon, Chinese Privet and Chinese Tallow on Understory Fuel Flammability in East Texas Hardwood and Pine Ecosystems," received Stephen F. Austin State University's William R. Johnson Outstanding Thesis Award for 2015.
Tiller explained in his thesis that understory fuels can overwhelmingly affect fire behavior and the development of crown fires. A combination of changes in land use practices, deviation from historical fire regimes and a number of other factors has transformed many forest understories into dense thickets of woody, invasive species that suppress native grass, forb and tree regeneration. This change in understory composition serves as a major concern for forest and fire managers due to potential changes in fire behavior, decreased diversity and compromised ecological integrity. To provide natural resource managers with a better understanding of these potential changes, Tiller developed an estimation of current understory fuel loads with increased invasive species abundance specific to pine and hardwood ecosystems. Additionally, he analyzed the chemical properties of key invasive species to identify the potential seasonal variation in fuel flammability to predict fire behavior in forest understories.
Tiller presented his research at a number of professional conferences, including the 2015 and 2016 International Fire Ecology and Management Congresses and the 2015 Big Thicket and West Gulf Coastal Plain Science Conference. In 2014, The Association of Fire Ecology awarded Tiller the Edward Komarek Graduate Student Excellence Award. Tiller received a Master of Science in environmental science in the spring of 2014.
Tiller currently serves as a wildland/urban interface specialist with the Texas A&M Forest Service in Nacogdoches and is pursuing his Ph.D. in forestry at the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture. His Ph.D. research is an extension of his Master of Science research and will compare the seasonal and ecoregion-specific flammability parameters of yaupon, Chinese privet, Chinese Tallow and three native species occurring in the piney woods, blackland prairie and post oak savannah ecoregions of Texas.
Tiller's research poster may be viewed here.
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