Structure and Composition of Historical Longleaf Pine Ecosystems in Mississippi, USA
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Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) historically was a widespread ecosystem composed of a simple tree canopy and grasslands ground layer. After widespread loss of this ecosystem due to logging and fire exclusion, little quantitative information exists about historical structure for restoration goals. We identified composition in De Soto National Forest and Pearl River County, Mississippi, USA, and density, basal area, and percent stocking in Pearl River County using General Land Office surveys and US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis surveys. Historical longleaf ecosystems were about 85% pine, with lesser amounts of broadleaf evergreen and oak species. Densities were about 175 to 180 trees/ha, mean tree diameters were 45 cm, and stocking was around 60% to 65%, which suggested longleaf pines were closed woodlands. Current forests are 38% to 57% pine, primarily loblolly, while longleaf pine is 2% to 8% of composition. Indeed, current longleaf pine composition across the Coastal Plain averages 3% and does not reach 10% at smaller landscape scales. Fire-sensitive broadleaf species of water oak, sweetgum, yellow-poplar, and red maple increased from about 0.5% composition to 2% to 10% of composition. Forests became twice as dense, at about 280 trees/ha to 330 trees/ha, with mean tree diameters of 22 cm. These results characterize conversion from open old growth longleaf forests, resulting in part from human maintenance, to successional forests due to human disruption of the historical ecosystem. It is important to remember structure and composition of historical forests for restoration and recognize wholesale changes so that successional forests do not become the new social and cultural baseline.
KeywordsLongleaf pine (Pinus palustris) Historical ecology USA forest service Mississippi Open old growth longleaf forests
Views in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the USDA Forest Service.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
The authors approved the manuscript and are responsible for interpretation of results and for any errors contained in this paper.
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