Human land use of forested regions has intensified worldwide in recent decades, threatening long-term sustainability. Primary effects include...
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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