, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 191-205

Old-growth forest landscape transitions from pre-European settlement to present

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We conducted a multi-temporal spatial analysis of forest cover for a 9600 ha landscape in northern Wisconsin, U.S.A., using data from pre-European settlement (1860s), post-settlement (1931), and current (1989) periods. Using GIS we have shown forest landscape changes and trajectories that have been generally described in aggregate for the norther Great Lake States region. We created the pre-European settlement map from the witness tree data of the original federal General Land Office survey notes. The 1931 cover was produced from the Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory, and the 1989 cover map was based on color infrared photography. We used GIS to analyze 1) land area occupied by different forest types at different dates, 2) temporal transitions between dates and their driving proceses, and 3) successional trajectories with landforms and spatial associations of forest types. Over the 120 year period, forest cover has changed from a landscape dominated by old-growth hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and hardwood forests (Acer saccharum, Betula alleghaniensis) to largely second-growth hardwoods and conifers. The former dominant hemlock is largely eliminated from the landscape. From 1860 to 1931, large-scale disturbances associated with logging were the dominant processes on the landscape. Early successional forest types covered much of the landscape by the 1930s. From 1931 to 1989, succession was the dominant process driving forest transitions as forest types succeeded to a diverse group of upland hardwood and conifer forest types. If successional trajectories continue, a more homogeneous landscape may develop comprised of both a northern hardwood type dominated by sugar maple, and a boreal conifer/hardwood forest.