A comparison of presettlement and present-day forests in northeastern lower Michigan

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General Land Office survey records of 1838-1846 were used to reconstruct the pre-European settlement vegetation along a soil moisture gradient in the Huron National Forest of northeastern lower Michigan. These data were compared to current forest data. Jack pine (Pinus banksiana), red pine (P. resinosa) and white pine (P. strobus) dominated fire-prone presettlement dry and dry-mesic sites on coarse-textured soils of glacial outwash plains and moraines. Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and white pine were most important on presettlement mesic sites on medium-textured soils of moraines and kame and kettle topography. Presettlement wet-mesic sites were dominated by hemlock, white pine and aspen (Populus spp.). White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and tamarack (Larix laricina) dominated presettlement wet sites on organic soils of outwash plains. Important presettlement forest types included: jack pine (41%), mixed conifer-northern hardwood (22%), lowland conifer (15%) and mixed pine (14%). Tree species composition has substantially changed on dry-mesic to wet-mesic sites over the last 150 y. White pine and hemlock have significantly declined in abundance. Oak (Quercus spp.), sugar maple and aspen currently dominate dry-mesic to wet-mesic sites. Important current forest types include: jack pine (32%), aspen-white birch (Betula papyrifera; 16%), oak (16%) and northern hardwood (8%). Today's forests have smaller trees and higher tree densities than forests in the presettlement era. Widespread logging, altered fire regimes and other anthropogenic disturbances since European settlement have interacted with physical factors to produce today's forests.

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American Midland Naturalist