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Homogenization of northern U.S. Great Lakes forests due to land use

An Erratum to this article was published on 30 May 2007

Abstract

Human land use of forested regions has intensified worldwide in recent decades, threatening long-term sustainability. Primary effects include conversion of land cover or reversion to an earlier stage of successional development. Both types of change can have cascading effects through ecosystems; however, the long-term effects where forests are allowed to regrow are poorly understood. We quantify the regional-scale consequences of a century of Euro-American land use in the northern U.S. Great Lakes region using a combination of historical Public Land Survey records and current forest inventory and land cover data. Our analysis shows a distinct and rapid trajectory of vegetation change toward historically unprecedented and simplified conditions. In addition to overall loss of forestland, current forests are marked by lower species diversity, functional diversity, and structural complexity compared to pre-Euro-American forests. Today’s forest is marked by dominance of broadleaf deciduous species—all 55 ecoregions that comprise the region exhibit a lower relative dominance of conifers in comparison to the pre-Euro-American period. Aspen (Populus grandidentata and P. tremuloides) and maple (Acer saccharum and A. rubrum) species comprise the primary deciduous species that have replaced conifers. These changes reflect the cumulative effects of local forest alterations over the region and they affect future ecosystem conditions as well as the ecosystem services they provide.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grants from the USDA Forest Service Eastern Region, USDA Forest Service North Central Research Station, Iowa State University, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. We thank C. Canham, J. Foley, D. Foster, C. Lorimer, T. Spies, and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this paper that improved its quality.

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Correspondence to Lisa A. Schulte.

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An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10980-007-9112-8

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Schulte, L.A., Mladenoff, D.J., Crow, T.R. et al. Homogenization of northern U.S. Great Lakes forests due to land use. Landscape Ecol 22, 1089–1103 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-007-9095-5

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Keywords

  • Sustainability
  • Land use/land cover change
  • Ecosystem simplification
  • pre-Euro-American settlement