Four Centuries of Change in Northeastern United States Forests
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CitationThompson, Jonathan R., Dunbar N. Carpenter, Charles V. Cogbill, and David R. Foster. 2013. “Four Centuries of Change in Northeastern United States Forests.” PLoS ONE 8 (9): e72540. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072540. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0072540.
AbstractThe northeastern United States is a predominately-forested region that, like most of the eastern U.S., has undergone a 400-year history of intense logging, land clearance for agriculture, and natural reforestation. This setting affords the opportunity to address a major ecological question: How similar are today's forests to those existing prior to European colonization? Working throughout a nine-state region spanning Maine to Pennsylvania, we assembled a comprehensive database of archival land-survey records describing the forests at the time of European colonization. We compared these records to modern forest inventory data and described: (1) the magnitude and attributes of forest compositional change, (2) the geography of change, and (3) the relationships between change and environmental factors and historical land use. We found that with few exceptions, notably the American chestnut, the same taxa that made up the pre-colonial forest still comprise the forest today, despite ample opportunities for species invasion and loss. Nonetheless, there have been dramatic shifts in the relative abundance of forest taxa. The magnitude of change is spatially clustered at local scales (<125 km) but exhibits little evidence of regional-scale gradients. Compositional change is most strongly associated with the historical extent of agricultural clearing. Throughout the region, there has been a broad ecological shift away from late successional taxa, such as beech and hemlock, in favor of early- and mid-successional taxa, such as red maple and poplar. Additionally, the modern forest composition is more homogeneous and less coupled to local climatic controls.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11877039
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