Novel current ecosystems of the eastern United States: A perspective for climate change

Authors: Brice Hanberry*,
Topics: Land Use, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: biodiversity, disturbance, fire, forests, foundation, historical ecology, land use
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 26
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Historically, disturbance regimes and foundation tree species interacted to maintain unique forested ecosystems. Here, I describe historical disturbance regimes and the interacting foundation species, reconstructed from historical tree surveys. For example, frequent surface fire was an understory disturbance critical for maintaining a bilayer of fire-tolerant trees and herbaceous vegetation in pine, pine/oak, and oak savannas and woodlands throughout most of the eastern United States. In contrast, severe fire removes both understory and overstory trees in boreal forests of the northernmost eastern United States, favoring auto-replacement by the pre-fire tree species, which have traits for rapid post-fire recovery. During the past century, successional forests comprised of many tree species and disturbed by frequent overstory tree removal have become the baseline for ecosystems and ecology. Change in land use has resulted in novel ecosystems now, which may provide some perspective for management of future environmental change.

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