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A comparison of presettlement and modern forest composition along an elevation gradient in central New Hampshire

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Tree species composition is influenced not only by edaphic and climatic factors but also by natural and human-caused disturbances. To understand interactions among these influences, we compared forest species composition data from the time of European settlement with modern data. We derived elevation data for 2529 trees mapped by early land surveys (1770–1850) across a 1000 m elevation gradient in central New Hampshire and compared these with modern data (2004–2009) from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program (123 plots containing 2126 trees) and from permanent plots representing case studies of different land-use histories. Spruce and beech are much less abundant today at all elevations than they were prior to settlement, while maples and birches have increased. Fir, hemlock, pines, and oaks have changed little in distribution, although pines and oaks increased in abundance somewhat. Land-use history (agriculture below 500 m and cutting of various intensities at all elevations) is likely the primary explanation for these shifts, although climate change is also an important factor for some. A clearer understanding of presettlement forest composition improves our ability to separate the relative importance of natural and human-driven influences on the species composition of today’s forests.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA. 2: Plainfield, VT 05667, USA.

Publication date: 2012-01-30

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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