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Journal ArticleDOI

Native Americans as active and passive promoters of mast and fruit trees in the eastern USA

01 Nov 2008-The Holocene (SAGE Publications)-Vol. 18, Iss: 7, pp 1123-1137

AbstractWe reviewed literature in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ethnobotany, palynology and ecology to try to determine the impacts of Native Americans as active and passive promoters of mast (nuts and acorns) and fruit trees prior to European settlement. Mast was a critical resource for carbohydrates and fat calories and at least 30 tree species and genera were used in the diet of Native Americans, the most important being oak (Quercus), hickory (Carya) and chestnut (Castanea), which dominated much of the eastern forest, and walnut (Juglans) to a lesser extent. Fleshy tree fruits were most accessible in human-disturbed landscapes, and at least 20 fruit- and berry-producing trees were commonly utilized by Native Americans. They regularly used fire and tree girdling as management tools for a multitude of purposes, including land clearing, promotion of favoured mast and fruit trees, vegetation control and pasturage for big-game animals. This latter point also applies to the vast fire-maintained prairie r...

Topics: Mast (botany) (62%), Juglans (50%)

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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: Whether ignited by lightning or by Native Americans, fire once shaped many North American ecosystems. Euro-American settlement and 20th-century fire suppression practices drastically altered historic fire regimes, leading to excessive fuel accumulation and uncharacteristically severe wildfires in some areas and diminished flammability resulting from shifts to more fire-sensitive forest species in others. Prescribed fire is a valuable tool for fuel management and ecosystem restoration, but the practice is fraught with controversy and uncertainty. Here, we summarize fire use in the forests and woodlands of North America and the current state of the practice, and explore challenges associated with the use of prescribed fire. Although new scientific knowledge has reduced barriers to prescribed burning, societal aversion to risk often trumps known, long-term ecological benefits. Broader implementation of prescribed burning and strategic management of wildfires in fire-dependent ecosystems will require improved integration of science, policy, and management, and greater societal acceptance through education and public involvement in land-management issues.

390 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: We synthesize existing sedimentary charcoal records to reconstruct Holocene fire history at regional, continental and global scales. The reconstructions are compared with the two potential controls of burning at these broad scales – changes in climate and human activities – to assess their relative importance on trends in biomass burning. Here we consider several hypotheses that have been advanced to explain the Holocene record of fire, including climate, human activities and synergies between the two. Our results suggest that 1) episodes of high fire activity were relatively common in the early Holocene and were consistent with climate changes despite low global temperatures and low levels of biomass burning globally; 2) there is little evidence from the paleofire record to support the Early Anthropocene Hypothesis of human modification of the global carbon cycle; 3) there was a nearly-global increase in fire activity from 3 to 2 ka that is difficult to explain with either climate or humans, but the widespread and synchronous nature of the increase suggests at least a partial climate forcing; and 4) burning during the past century generally decreased but was spatially variable; it declined sharply in many areas, but there were also large increases (e.g., Australia and parts of Europe). Our analysis does not exclude an important role for human activities on global biomass burning during the Holocene, but instead provides evidence for a pervasive influence of climate across multiple spatial and temporal scales.

263 citations


Journal ArticleDOI

191 citations



Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: The results of this study suggest that altered disturbance regimes rather than climate had the greatest influence on vegetation composition and dynamics in the eastern United States over multiple centuries.
Abstract: Many ecological phenomena combine to direct vegetation trends over time, with climate and disturbance playing prominent roles. To help decipher their relative importance during Euro-American times, we employed a unique approach whereby tree species/genera were partitioned into temperature, shade tolerance, and pyrogenicity classes and applied to comparative tree-census data. Our megadata analysis of 190 datasets determined the relative impacts of climate vs. altered disturbance regimes for various biomes across the eastern United States. As the Euro-American period (ca. 1500 to today) spans two major climatic periods, from Little Ice Age to the Anthropocene, vegetation changes consistent with warming were expected. In most cases, however, European disturbance overrode regional climate, but in a manner that varied across the Tension Zone Line. To the north, intensive and expansive early European disturbance resulted in the ubiquitous loss of conifers and large increases of Acer, Populus, and Quercus in northern hardwoods, whereas to the south, these disturbances perpetuated the dominance of Quercus in central hardwoods. Acer increases and associated mesophication in Quercus-Pinus systems were delayed until mid 20th century fire suppression. This led to significant warm to cool shifts in temperature class where cool-adapted Acer saccharum increased and temperature neutral changes where warm-adapted Acer rubrum increased. In both cases, these shifts were attributed to fire suppression rather than climate change. Because mesophication is ongoing, eastern US forests formed during the catastrophic disturbance era followed by fire suppression will remain in climate disequilibrium into the foreseeable future. Overall, the results of our study suggest that altered disturbance regimes rather than climate had the greatest influence on vegetation composition and dynamics in the eastern United States over multiple centuries. Land-use change often trumped or negated the impacts of warming climate, and needs greater recognition in climate change discussions, scenarios, and model interpretations.

158 citations


Cites background from "Native Americans as active and pass..."

  • ...…that oaks and associates were able to maintain dominance eastward under progressively wetter conditions (where the competitive effect of shade-tolerant species is stronger) underscored the importance of human ignitions in presettlement times (Guyette et al., 2006; Abrams & Nowacki, 2008, 2014)....

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  • ...This climate milieu should have been rather unconducive to extensive fires, yet much of the eastern United States was covered by pyrogenic vegetation types fostered by Native American burning (Abrams & Nowacki, 2008, 2014)....

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  • ...There is little evidence to support widespread lightning-caused fires in the eastern United States, outside of Florida, due to a lack of dry lightning (Abrams & Nowacki, 2008, 2014)....

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  • ...…was intentional human ignitions who largely drove fire regimes in the presettlement times in much of the eastern United States and without those ignitions fire occurrence would have been greatly reduced (Guyette et al., 2006; Abrams & Nowacki, 2008), even under somewhat warmer and drier conditions....

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  • ...However, immediately south of the tension zone, Native American landscape manipulations were much more prevalent, promoting oak and pine dominance through broadcast burning (Delcourt & Delcourt, 1997; Abrams & Nowacki, 2008)....

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References
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1,732 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: what urban economics leaves out uses the concepts of human carrying capacity and natural capital to develop a framework to evaluate each ci...

1,551 citations


"Native Americans as active and pass..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Nevertheless, the European settlement legacy or ecological footprint in the USA is very large (Rees, 1992)....

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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: ak (Quercus) represents one of the most dominant species groups in the eastern deciduous forest of North America (Table 1). In certain eastern regions, oak dominance reflects the importance of this genus in presettlement forests (Abrams and Downs 1990, Spurr 1951, Whitney and Davis 1986). Yet, in other regions, the current distribution of oak greatly exceeds that of the original vegetation (Abrams 1986, Howell and Kucera 1956, Nowacki et al. 1990). Thus, the development of oak species has occurred through a variety of ecological pathways and disturbance conditions. The dominance of oak in presettlement forests is particularly interesting because most oaks are considered early to midsuccessional species. Indeed, most recent studies indicate the potential for widespread oak replacement by more shade-tolerant species in mature forests (Christensen 1977, Lorimer 1984, Nowacki et al. 1990). However, this phenomenon may vary with regional and edaphic factors and be more pronounced on mesic rather than on xeric sites (Abrams 1986, Host et al. 1987, McCune and Cottam 1985, Nowacki and Abrams 1991). These observations have led researchers to ask the following questions about oak ecology in eastern

966 citations


"Native Americans as active and pass..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Where multiple mast tree species were present, Natives seemed to prefer hickory nuts, based on archaeological evidence (Delcourt et al., 1986)....

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  • ...Natives must have been the principal ignition source as lightning-based ignitions are uncommon in the humid northeast and most other regions of the eastern biome (Stewart, 2002; Lorimer and White, 2003)....

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  • ...If left fallow over extended periods, Natives probably burned areas to prevent woody plant invasion to maintain open grassy habitats for game (especially deer) and ease the future return to agriculture....

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  • ...Since these genera are fire-adapted, they may have benefited from Native American burning in the region and, in the case of chestnut, through active dispersal by Natives (Abrams, 1992; Foster et al., 2002; MacDougall, 2003; Pederson et al., 2005)....

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  • ...Plantations would have served as distinct, long-term markers, helping establish ‘turf’ while providing a readily accessible food source for Natives and their game....

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Journal ArticleDOI
Abstract: A diverse array of fire-adapted plant communities once covered the eastern United States. European settlement greatly altered fire regimes, often increasing fire occurrence (e.g., in northern hardwoods) or substantially decreasing it (e.g., in tallgrass prairies). Notwithstanding these changes, fire suppression policies, beginning around the 1920s, greatly reduced fire throughout the East, with profound ecological consequences. Fire-maintained open lands converted to closed-canopy forests. As a result of shading, shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive plants began to replace heliophytic (sun-loving), fire-tolerant plants. A positive feedback cycle—which we term “mesophication”—ensued, whereby microenvironmental conditions (cool, damp, and shaded conditions; less flammable fuel beds) continually improve for shade-tolerant mesophytic species and deteriorate for shade-intolerant, fire-adapted species. Plant communities are undergoing rapid compositional and structural changes, some with no ecological antece...

955 citations