Successive Land Surveys as Indicators of Vegetation Change in an Agricultural Landscape

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Virginia Tech

A series of anthropogenic disturbance conditions have altered the vegetation of the southern Appalachians during the past 200-years. The objective of this research was to identify the nature and timing of these vegetation changes in order to better understand the underlying causes. A total of 304 land surveys were collected for a small agricultural watershed from early settlement in 1787 through to the present day. Witness corners recorded tree species, shrubs, stumps, snags and non vegetative markers. Types of witness corners were tallied and tested for shifts in frequency across time periods. Tree species were also classified by silvical characteristics including sprouting capability, shade tolerance, and seed type and these groupings were tested for shifts in frequency across time periods. Landform bias of the witness corners was tested using references contained in the surveys. Results showed significant shifts in white oak (Quercus alba L.), chestnut (Castanea dentate Marsh. Borkh.), chestnut oak (Quercus prinus Wild.), black oak (Quercus velutina Lam.), red oak(Quercus rubra L.), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia L.), yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.), and scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea Muenchh.). The central change was a steady decline in white oak, probably due to the absence of fire and changes in soil properties. Chestnut replaced white oak as the dominant species, but was removed by chestnut blight in the 1930's. Sprouting capability appeared to be the most important silvical characteristic across all species.

white oak, chestnut, historical ecology, metes and bounds surveys, Witness trees, southern Appalachians, Southwestern Virginia