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Historic land surveys present opportunities for reconstructing frontier settlement patterns in North America

Tomscha, Stephanie A., Gergel, Sarah E.
Landscape ecology 2015 v.30 no.2 pp. 203-213
anthropogenic activities, data collection, floodplains, history, human settlements, land surveying, landscape position, landscapes, riparian areas, roads, surveys, terraces, trails, vegetation, watersheds, Washington
INTRODUCTION: Historical frontier expansion in North America has played a foundational role in shaping contemporary landscapes, yet early-settlement patterns are poorly quantified. Historic datasets such as land surveys have been underutilized in this context as they have been primarily used for historical ecological research on vegetation patterns. METHODS: We use information from GLO surveys (late 1800s) to map a variety of linear disturbances (e.g., roads, trails) and examine their spatial patterns of concordance. Using a watershed in eastern Washington State, we asked: (1) Historically, which anthropogenic disturbances co-occur? and (2) Did historical disturbances vary with landscape position? RESULTS: With the exception of trails, we found most disturbance types co-occurred with at least one other disturbance. Disturbances were concentrated in riparian zones and terraces with approximately 45 % of disturbances occurring in less than 16 % of the landscape reflecting the disproportionate importance of floodplains for frontier settlers. CONCLUSIONS: Our results have implications for interpretation of GLO-derived vegetation maps and for fragmentation of modern floodplains.