Do quantitative models of past oak openings distributions support or refute early historical accounts of Native American landscape modification?

Authors: Stephen J. Tulowiecki*, SUNY Geneseo, David Robertson, SUNY Geneseo, Chris P.S. Larsen, University at Buffalo
Topics: Biogeography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Historical Geography
Keywords: Native American, species distribution models, forests, historical documents
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Bonaparte, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research on Native American forest modification in the Eastern US has demonstrated a tradition of analyzing first-hand historical accounts of Native American land-use practices, and of recently abandoned landscapes. Elsewhere quantitative methods, such as statistical analyses and species distribution models, have sought to separate environmental from anthropogenic controls upon forested landscapes. Yet, studies have not synthesized such methods in a directly interdisciplinary manner. This study applied both historical accounts and quantitative models to understand environmental and anthropogenic controls upon oak openings that were observed ca. 1800 CE. This research focused upon modern-day western New York State, the territory of the Iroquois during the 16th-18th centuries. First, this study used historical documents to compile accounts of landscape conditions at Euro-American arrival, in which Native American land use was implicated in forest composition (e.g. high oak abundance) and forest structure (e.g. oak openings). Second, models of past distributions of oak openings were trained from vegetation data within original land survey records, as a function of both environmental variables and proxies of Native American land use. Third, historical accounts and model predictions were compared. Preliminary results, supported both by historical accounts and quantitative models, suggest that oak openings appear attributable to the combined effects of Seneca land use (i.e. fire) during the 18th century in conjunction with soil conditions (e.g. dry, higher-pH soils). This study manifests how interdisciplinary research can enrich an understanding of past Native American landscape modifications.

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