Forests and Forest Trees in a Human-modified Landscape

Few places on the earth have not been affected by the influence of humans. The degree of that influence varies a great deal from place to place, but in the mid-Atlantic region it has a long history. This area was changed many thousands of years ago by Native Americans and since the mid-1600's by colonial settlers.

Those centuries of human occupation have produced a complicated mosaic of patches that derive from multiple and sequential modifications of the land (often poorly known), with complex ecological, historical, and economic interconnections between the patches. Because our environment is organized in complex ways, having humans as an integral part, changing even as it is observed, it is not convenient to study, difficult to understand causality, and hard to make controlled experiments.

In this region, every parcel has a varied history, often tied to social movements and economic pressures. The lands now covered with forest at SERC are no exception to this. A map of the types, sizes and health of many individual trees can reveal some aspects of that history. For example, the distribution of the large trees in the central section of SERC, shows a diversity of tree communities, young and old, in wet locations and in dry uplands, reflecting the reactions of individual trees to local conditions for growth as well as to recent history of disturbance and human intervention.

A sample map of the Big Tree project demonstrates some of the data we have been gathering on the many trees in our landscape.

Locations of trees with diameters larger than 20 cm (8 inches) in part of the Java Farm section of SERC and the adjacent Contee's Plantation. The total area of the map is 46.5 hectares (115 acres).

See a larger view of the map with a key to the tree species