In the midwestern and eastern U.S., oaks (Quercus
spp.) have been a dominant component of forests for at least the last 10,000 years, providing vital habitat for numerous wildlife and plant species that have adapted to oak forest conditions. However, the current state of these oak systems, in which there has been a general lack of successful oak regeneration and recruitment and an increase in the relative dominance of mesophytic species, may be nearing critical thresholds. If reached, restoring oak systems through natural regeneration and other methods, such as prescribed fire, may become especially challenging if not impossible. An understanding of spatial variation in oak dominance over time can inform and potentially improve the efficacy of intervention strategies. Using Public Land Survey and Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) inventories, we evaluated changes in the composition of timberland across ecoregional subsections in the Driftless Area of the Midwest at three time periods (pre-settlement 1800s, 1990s, and 2000s). We identified an overall decrease in oak dominance, and particularly dominance of the white oak (Quercus alba
L., Q. macrocarpa
Michx., and Q. bicolor
Willd.) species group since the presettlement era, and an increase in other eastern soft hardwoods.
Forest Inventory and Analysis
U.S. Public Land Survey
Knoot, T.G.; Shea, M.E.; Schulte, L.A.; Tyndall, J.C.; Nelson, M.D.; Perry, C.H.; Palik, B.J. 2015. Forest change in the Driftless Area of the Midwest: From a preferred to undesirable future. Forest Ecology and Management. 341: 110-120.