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The southeastern landscape: a history of human use and ecological change.
Christensen, Norman*,1, 1 Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
ABSTRACT- The activities of humans over the past 10 millennia have done much to shape southeastern ecosystems and landscapes. Native American impacts on the fauna, their use of fire, and their varied agricultural practices had much to do with the character of the wetlands, savannas and forests encountered by early European explorers. The character and scale of the conversion of forested land to agriculture by European settlers varied considerably from the seventeenth the mid-nineteenth century. Subsistence fallow-cycle farming practiced by early settlers gave way to larger scale activities dependent on regional and international markets. As erosion and loss of nutrient capital diminished crop productivity, land owners responded by putting more land into production, thereby increasing their dependency on slave labor and initiating region-wide cycle of land impoverishment. Forests not cleared for agriculture during this period were high-graded for timber and fuel, and impacted severely by livestock. In many parts of the coastal plain forests were managed for naval stores. Economic pressures forced the abandonment of much of this land, beginning with the post-Civil War Reconstruction and continuing through the Great Depression. The successional patterns and widespread reforestation that ensued were heavily influenced by previous patterns of land use and abuse, as well as the spatial distribution of activities on the landscapes, thus creating the so-called southern pinery, one of the most important sources of softwood fiber in the world. The extent of forested land in the Southeast grew more slowly during the middle of the twentieth century, and in the 1980s actually began to shrink with the expansion of urban centers. Where forests remain, forest management has produced patterns of forest change quite different from those observed in abandoned fields. Throughout this history, human use of the land was influenced heavily by the character of the available ecosystems; those uses in turn set in motion patterns of ecological change that greatly affected the character of ecosystem resources available to subsequent generations. Future southeastern landscapes will just as surely be shaped by this interaction.
Key words: History, Southeast, Succession, Reforestation