Assessing the relative influence of past Native American activity on Oak distribution in Canawaugus, NY

Authors: Lina Clifford*, SUNY - Geneseo, Stephen J. Tulowiecki, SUNY Geneseo
Topics: Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: land use, historic landscapes, biogeography, species distribution
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Past Native American groups impacted the landscape through land use practices such as agriculture, and controlled burnings to clear land for hunting and travel. Studying past Native American impacts provides insight into traditional food systems, past human-environmental interactions, and historical perspectives on pre-European landscapes. Previous studies in the eastern US found that Native American settlement increased the amount of nut-producing trees like oak (Quercus spp.), chestnut (Castanea dentata), and hickory (Carya spp.) within 10 km of village sites. One shared limitation of previous research is the simplified representation of land use. This research assesses the relative influence of environment and Native American land use on forest composition at a hyper-local resolution using more detailed representations of land use. This study area is Canawaugus, New York State, 93 km east of modern-day Buffalo, once home to as much as 1,000 Seneca Iroquois as late as 1826. Interpolations of tree species abundance were made using witness-trees records from ca. 1806. Past Native American land use was mapped using archaeological texts and historical traveler accounts. Soil moisture and temperature GIS data were additionally collected. Quantitative models were developed in R to assess whether Native American land use or environmental attributes, were more correlated with nut-produced tree species. The results showed high abundances of nut-producing tree species near Canawaugus Native American activity, within approximately 7 km. High abundances were due to both Native American land use and environmental factors. Results show varying land uses surrounding the village resulting in asymmetrical patterns in modification.

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