Publication Details

Regime shifts and weakened environmental gradients in open oak and pine ecosystems

Publication Toolbox

  • Download PDF (2146408)
  • This publication is available only online.

Year Published



PLoS ONE 7(7): e41337. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041337. 16 p.


Fire suppression allows tree species that are intolerant of fire stress to increase their distribution, potentially resulting in disruption of historical species-environmental relationships. To measure changes between historical General Land Office surveys (1815 to 1850) and current USDA Forest Inventory and Assessment surveys (2004 to 2008), we compared composition, distribution, and site factors of 21 tree species or species groups in the Missouri Ozarks. We used 24 environmental variables and random forests as a classification method to model distributions. Eastern redcedar, elms, maples, and other fire-sensitive species have increased in dominance in oak forests, with concurrent reductions by oak species; specific changes varied by ecological subsection. Ordinations displayed loss of separation between formerly distinctive oak and fire-sensitive tree species groups. Distribution maps showed decreased presence of disturbance-dependent oak and pine species and increased presence of fire-sensitive species that generally expanded from subsections protected from fire along rivers to upland areas, except for eastern redcedar, which expanded into these subsections. Large scale differences in spatial gradients between past and present communities paralleled reduced influence of local topographic gradients in the varied relief of the Missouri Ozarks, as fire-sensitive species have moved to higher, drier, and sunnier sites away from riverine corridors. Due to changes in land use, landscapes in the Missouri Ozarks, eastern United States, and world-wide are changing from open oak and pine-dominated ecosystems to novel oak-mixed species forests, although at fine scales, forests are becoming more diverse in tree species today. Fire suppression weakened the influence by environmental gradients over species dominance, allowing succession from disturbance-dependent oaks to an alternative state of fire-sensitive species. Current and future research and conservation that rely on historical relationships and ecological principles based on disturbance across the landscape will need to incorporate modern interactions among species for resources into management plans and projections.


Hanberry, Brice B.; Dey, Dan C.; He, Hong S. 2012. Regime shifts and weakened environmental gradients in open oak and pine ecosystems. PLoS ONE 7(7): e41337. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041337. 16 p.

Last updated on: August 1, 2012