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Legacies of Historical Land Use on Regional Forest Composition and Structure in Wisconsin, USA (Mid-1800s-1930s-2000s)

Jeanine M. Rhemtulla, David J. Mladenoff and Murray K. Clayton
Ecological Applications
Vol. 19, No. 4 (Jun., 2009), pp. 1061-1078
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40346250
Page Count: 18
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Legacies of Historical Land Use on Regional Forest Composition and Structure in Wisconsin, USA (Mid-1800s-1930s-2000s)
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Abstract

Historical land use can influence forest species composition and structure for centuries after direct use hás ceased. In Wisconsin, USA, Euro-American settlement in the mid-to late 1800s was accompanied by widespread logging, agricultural conversion, and fire suppression. To determine the maximum magnitude of change in forest ecosystems at the height of the agricultural period and the degree of recovery since that time, we assessed changes in forest species composition and structure among the (1) mid-1800s, at the onset of Euro-American settlement; (2) 1930s, at the height of the agricultural period; and (3) 2000s, following forest regrowth. Data sources included the original U.S. Public Land Survey records (mid-1800s), the Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory (1930s), and U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data (2000s). We derived maps of relative species dominance and tree diameters for the three dates and assessed change using spatial error models, nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination, and Sørenson distance measures. Our results suggest that since the mid-1800s, hemlock and white pine have declined in absolute area from 22% to 1%, and the proportion of medium (25-<50 cm) and large-diameter (≥ 50 cm) trees of all species has decreased from 71% to 27% across the entire state. Early-suceessional aspen-birch is three times more common than in the mid-1800s (9% vs. 3%), and maple and other shade-tolerant species are increasing in southern areas formerly dominated by oak forests and savannas. Since the peak agricultural extent in the 1930s, species composition and tree size in northern forests have shown some recovery, while southern forests appear to be on a novel trajectory of change. There is evidence of regional homogenization, but the broad north-south environmental gradient in Wisconsin constrains overall species composition. Although the nature of the future forests will be determined in part by climate change and other exogenous variables, land use is likely to remain the driving factor.

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