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The history of widespread decrease in oak dominance exemplified in a grassland--forest landscape

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Science of The Total Environment. 476-477: 591-600.


Regionally-distinctive open oak forest ecosystems have been replaced either by intensive agriculture and grazing fields or by denser forests throughout eastern North America and Europe. To quantify changes in tree communities and density in the Missouri Plains, a grassland-forest landscape, we used historical surveys from1815 to 1864 and current surveys from 2004 to 2008. To estimate density for historical communities, we used the Morisita plotless density estimator and applied corrections for surveyor bias. To estimate density for current forests, we used Random Forests, an ensemble regression tree method, to predict densities from known values at plots using terrain and soil predictors. Oak species decreased from 62% of historical composition to 30% of current composition and black and white oaks historically were dominant species across 93% of the landscape and currently were dominant species across 42% of the landscape. Current forest density was approximately two times greater than historical densities, demonstrating loss of savanna and woodlands and transition to dense forest structure. Average tree diameters were smaller than in the past, but mean basal area and stocking remained similar over time because of the increase in density in current forests. Nevertheless, there were spatial differences; basal area and stocking decreased along rivers and increased away from rivers. Oak species are being replaced by other species in the Missouri Plains, similar to replacement throughout the range of Quercus. Long-term commitment to combinations of prescribed burning and silvicultural prescriptions in more xeric sites may be necessary for oak recruitment. Restoration of open oak ecosystems is a time-sensitive issue because restoration will become increasingly costly as oaks are lost from the overstory and the surrounding matrix becomes dominated by non-oak species.


Hanberry, Brice B.; Dey, Daniel C.; He, Hong S. 2014. The history of widespread decrease in oak dominance exemplified in a grassland--forest landscape. Science of The Total Environment. 476-477: 591-600.

Last updated on: February 11, 2014