, Volume 201, Issue 2, pp 517-529
Date: 02 Oct 2008

Extent and spatial patterns of grass bald land cover change (1948–2000), Oregon Coast Range, USA

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Abstract

Globally, temperate grasslands and meadows have sharply declined in spatial extent. Loss and fragmentation of grasslands and meadows may impact biodiversity, carbon storage, energy balance, and climate change. In the Pacific Northwest region of North America, grasslands and meadows have declined in extent over the past century. Largely undocumented in this regional decline are the grass balds of the Oregon Coast Range, isolated grasslands in a landscape dominated by coniferous forests. This study was conducted to quantify the spatial extent and patterns of grass bald change. Five balds in the Oregon Coast Range were evaluated using historical aerial photographs and recent digital orthophoto quadrangles (DOQ). Over the time period of study (1948/1953 to 1994/2000), bald area declined by 66%, primarily from forest encroachment. The number and average size of bald vegetation patches declined, while edge density increased. Tree encroachment into balds was inversely related to distance from nearest potential parent trees. Spatial patterns of bald loss may result from a forest to bald gradient of unfavorable environmental conditions for tree establishment and/or seed dispersal limitation. Species dependent on balds may be at risk from loss of bald area and increased fragmentation, although metrics of habitat fragmentation may not reflect species-specific habitat requirements. Tree encroachment patterns and increased bald edge densities suggest increasing rates of bald loss in the future. The remote sensing nature of this study cannot determine the fundamental causes of bald decline, although prior research suggests climate change, cessation of native burning, successional changes in response to prior wildfires, and cessation of livestock grazing all may have potential influence.