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Land Use History of North America

The Land Use History of North America (LUHNA) is no longer an active USGS research project.
This web site serves as an archive to maintain the visibility of the important work done by the LUHNA project team.
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Clues from the Past about our Future

Expanding Agriculture and Population

Night Lights and Urbanization

Patterns in Plant Diversity

Baltimore-Washington Urbanization

Great Lakes Landscape Change

Upper Mississippi River Vegetation

Greater Yellowstone Biodiversity

Southwestern US Paleoecology

Palouse Bioregion Land Use History

Northeastern Forest Dynamics

Land Use History of the Colorado Plateau

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Regionalization Studies at Harvard Forest LTER

LTER Regionalization logo
Principal Investigators:

David Foster
Harvard Forest
Harvard University
P.O. Box 68
Petersham, Massachusetts 01366-0068
Phone: (978)724-3302

Emery Boose
Harvard Forest
Harvard University
P.O. Box 68
324 North Main Street
Petersham, Massachusetts 01366-0068
Phone: (978)724-3302

J. Aber
Harvard Forest
Harvard University
P.O. Box 68
Petersham, Massachusetts 01366-0068
Phone: (978)724-3302

Scientific Basis for Regionalization

Research at the Harvard Forest LTER covers a range of spatial scales from regional (~1000 km) to subregional (~100 km) to landscape (~10 km) to site (~1 km); (Figure 1). Many projects span more than one spatial scale (Table 1). Study areas are described in more detail below.

Figure 1.

Figure 1 Maps of region, subregion, landscape and site

Table 1. Spatial Scales and Research Approaches of Harvard Forest Studies
Area New England C Massachusetts Petersham Harvard Forest
Size 1000 km 100 km 10 km 1 km
Elevation 0 - 1870 m 30 - 610 m 190 - 425 m 280 - 425 m
Paleoecology * * * *
Archaeology *
History * * * *
Dendrochronology * *
Hurricane Modeling * * * *
Ecosystem Modeling * * * *
Vegetation Surveys * * *
Soil Surveys *
Fauna/Flora * *
Atmosphere Exchange *
Hurricane Pulldown *
Nitrogen Saturation *
Soil Warming *
Organic Matter *
Controlled Environment *
Atmospheric Deposition * * * *
Water Management * * * *
Forest Management * * *
Land Protection * * *
Land Use Planning * * *
Education * * * *

New England Region

The New England region (120,000 km2) is geologically and topographically varied. Highlands are typically 200 m to >500 m a.s.l. whereas lowlands occur below 200 m and mountainous areas reach above 1000 m. Physiography is bedrock controlled. Highlands consist of Paleozoic granites, gneisses, and schists. Lowlands are formed in eroded Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary and metamorphic rock and include the primary carbonate-rich rocks in the region.

Regional climatic gradients associated with latitude, distance from the coast, and elevation produce considerable variation in vegetation and natural disturbance. The importance of tropical windstorms and fire is thought to decrease from southeastern coastal areas to the northwest and inland. Major forest types include: Central Hardwoods-Hemlock, Transition Hardwoods-White Pine-Hemlock, Northern Hardwoods-Hemlock-White Pine, and Spruce-Fir-Northern Hardwoods.

Due to broad similarity in vegetation, natural disturbance regimes and cultural history across this region, most of our regional LTER studies focus on the New England states excluding northern Maine. However, for purposes of examining very broad-scale phenomena (e.g., atmospheric transport and deposition of pollutants; tropical storm meteorology) or comparison of forest dynamics across major environmental or cultural gradients, this study region is occasionally expanded to include the Adirondack region of New York or adjacent mid-Atlantic states.

North Central Massachusetts Subregion

The 40-township subregion (3,150 km2) largely occupies the Central Upland (200 m - 400 m a.s.l.), a rugged physiographic area characterized by north-south ridges. To the east and west are lowlands of low-to-moderate relief (25 m - 150 m a.s.l.). Climatic gradients of temperature and length of growing season parallel physiography and are responsible for subtle variation in forest composition. The predominant Transition Hardwoods-White Pine-Hemlock Forest includes oak, red maple, birch, white pine, and hemlock. However, the Connecticut Valley Lowland supports many southern or coastal species and higher elevations of the Upland contain species of the Northern Hardwoods-Spruce Forest. The presence of nutrient demanding species in the Lowland suggests a fertility gradient associated with bedrock.

Historical patterns of settlement and land-use activity follow the physiography. The Lowlands were settled earlier than the Central Upland and agriculture has remained important in these fertile areas. Reforestation after agricultural abandonment has been most complete in the Central Upland, with ~70% of the modern landscape supporting second growth forests. Several urban areas occur within the subregion, and suburbanization is increasing throughout.

Petersham Township

Petersham (9844 ha) is characteristic of the Central Uplands region. Elevation ranges from 160 m to 400 m, with local relief less than 60 m. Topography is bedrock controlled with gneisses and schists overlain by shallow till deposits (0-10 m) in the uplands and glaciofluvial sediments in lowland drainages. Soils are acidic, coarse-textured loams and sands locally underlain by a dense, impermeable hardpan. Good agricultural soils are restricted to the main ridge crests comprising approximately 20% of the township, whereas over 40% of the area is considered unsuitable for agriculture. Land clearing for agriculture peaked in the mid-19th century followed by natural reforestation. The township is currently 90% forested.

Prospect Hill Tract, Harvard Forest

The Prospect Hill Tract (337 ha) forms the northern, highest portion of the major ridge in Petersham. Elevation ranges from 270 m to 420 m. Variability in relief, depth to bedrock, and presence of a fragipan create a highly dissected pattern of soil drainage. The annual temperature is 8.5oC, the frost-free season averages five months, and the annual precipitation is 105 cm with 150 cm of snow.

The area is dominated by mixed oak-white pine-red maple forests on the uplands and hemlock and spruce in low lying areas. With the exception of a 31-ha woodlot, the tract was cleared in the 18th and 19th Centuries for pasture (72%) and tillage (18%). Upon agricultural abandonment, cleared areas reforested naturally or were planted with conifers, whereas the woodlot developed into a mature hemlock stand.

Examples of Current Research:

Land-use History as Long-term, Broad-scale Disturbance: Regional Forest Dynamics in Central New England

D. Foster, G. Motzkin, J. Fuller, B. Slater

Human land-use activities differ from natural disturbance processes and may elicit novel biotic responses and disrupt existing biotic:environmental relationships. The widespread prevalence of land-use requires that human activity be addressed as a fundamental ecological process and that lessons from investigations of land-use history be applied to the conservation and management of forested landscapes. Changes in the intensity of land-use and extent of forest cover in New England over the past 3 centuries provide the opportunity to evaluate the nature of forest response and reorganization to such broad-scale disturbance. Using a range of archival data and modern studies, we assessed historical changes in forest vegetation and land-use from the Colonial period (early 17th C) to the present across a 5000 km2 area in central Massachusetts (Figure 2) in order to evaluate the effects of this novel disturbance regime on the structure, composition and pattern of vegetation and its relationship to regional climatic gradients.

Figure 2.

Figure 2 Map of Connecticut River Valley

Figure 3.
Figure 3 Maps illustrating population in 1765, 1831, 1905, and 1990
Cultural history in the region following European settlement in the 17th and 18th C has involved a gradual and continual increase in the human population with a pronounced change through time from a dispersed agrarian population to a progressively urbanized and suburbanized population as large-scale industry increased in the mid 19th C (Figure 3). Rapid deforestation for agriculture led to a landscape dominated by open fields and scattered woodlots in the mid 19th C when the land was very intensively used. Concomitant with the opening of agricultural lands in the mid-west and industrialization in the east, farmland was abandoned in New England and reverted naturally back to forest, a process that has continued to the present (Figure 4). The major objectives of this study and related paleoecological research across the same region (Fuller et al. 1997) are to determine the impact of this changing intensity of land-use on regional vegetation patterns and to compare the forest composition during the pre-settlement period and today.


Figure 4 Map of cover types in 1830 and 1985

Figure 5.
Figure 5 Distribution of tree taxa and forest assemblages. At the time of European settlement the distribution of tree taxa and forest assemblages showed pronounced regional variation and corresponded strongly to climate gradients, especially variation in growing degree days (Figure 5; Table 2). The dominance of hemlock and northern hardwoods (maple, beech, birch) in the cooler Central Uplands and oak, chestnut and hickory at lower elevations in the Connecticut Valley and Eastern Lowlands is consistent with the regional distribution of these taxa and suggests a strong climatic control over broad-scale vegetation patterns. We infer that intensive natural or aboriginal disturbance appears to have been minimal in the uplands, whereas infrequent surface fires in the lowlands may have maintained the abundance of central hardwoods and restricted the abundance of hemlock, beech and sugar maple in these areas.

Table2. Results of regressions of township positions on the first two DCA axes versus climate calculated as average, maximum or forest-weighted growing degree days for the township.
Significance levels include * < .05, *** < .001.
Axis 1 Axis 2
Colonial Data r^2 r^2
Average GDD 0.576 *** 0.112 *
Maximum GDD 0.623 *** 0.026
Modern Data
Average GDD 0.139 * 0.018
Maximum GDD 0.089 0.003
Forest Weighted GDD 0.182 * 0.019 *

Figure 6.
Figure 6 The modern vegetation is compositionally distinct from Colonial vegetation, exhibits little regional variation in the distribution of tree taxa or forest assemblages defined by tree taxa, and shows little relationship to broad climatic gradients (Figure 6). The homogenization of the vegetation, disruption of vegetation:environment relationships, and formation of novel assemblages appear to be the result of (1) a massive, novel disturbance regime; (2) ongoing low intensity human and natural disturbance throughout the reforestation period to the present; (3) permanent changes in some aspects of the biotic and abiotic environment; and (4) a relatively short period for forest recovery (100-150 years). These factors have maintained the regional abundance of shade intolerant and moderately tolerant taxa (e.g., birch, maple, oak, pine) and restricted the spread and increase of shade-tolerant, long-lived taxa such as hemlock and beech. These results raise the possibility that historical land-use has similarly altered vegetation:environment relationships across broader geographic regions and should be considered in all contemporary studies of global change.

Publications and Presentations

Foster, D. Integration of long-term studies into the analysis and management of modern landscapes. Plenary Talk, International Association for Landscape Ecology, Duke University, March 16, 1997.

Foster, D. Ecosystem response to human disturbance - integrating approaches and results across scales. Synthesis in Ecology: Applications, Opportunities, and Challenges. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. November 18-20, 1996.

Foster, D. 1995. Land-use history and four hundred years of vegetation change in New England. In B. L. Turner (ed.), Principles, Patterns and Processes of Land Use Change: Some Legacies of the Columbian Encounter. SCOPE Publication. John Wiley and Sons, New York. pp. 253-319.

Foster, D. 1993. Land-use history and transformations of the forest landscape of central New England. Pages 91-110 in S. T. A. Pickett and M. McDonnell (eds.), Humans as Components of Ecosystems: Subtle Human Effects and the Ecology of Populated Areas. Springer-Verlag, New York.

Foster, D., G. Motzkin, and B. Slater. 1998. Land-use history as long-term broad-scale disturbance: regional forest dynamics in Central New England. Ecosystems 1:96-119.

Fuller, J., D. Foster, J. McLachlan and N. Drake. 1998. Impact of human activity on regional forest composition and dynamics in Central New England. Ecosystems 1:76-95.

Motzkin, G., D. Foster, A. Allen, J. Harrod and R. Boone. 1996. Controlling site to evaluate history: vegetation patterns of a New England sand plain. Ecological Monographs 66:345-365.

Motzkin, G., W. Patterson and D. Foster. In review. A regional-historical perspective on uncommon plant communities: Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. Journal of Ecology.

PnET: A Simple, Lumped Parameter Model of Forest Biogeochemistry for Regional Applications

J. Aber, W. Currie, C. Driscoll, E. Farrell, C. Federer, C. Goodale, M. Goulden, J. Jenkins, D. Kicklighter, R. Lathrop, G. Lovett, M. Martin, S. McNulty, J. Melillo, S. Ollinger, K. Postek, P. Reich, R. Santore

We first discussed our approach for the Harvard Forest's contribution to regional studies at the LTER All-Scientists meeting in 1990. Working out from the heart of New England, and working with the Harvard Forest LTER theme of natural versus human disturbance, we chose the New York/New England region as the target area. This region encompasses a wide range of climatic zones and forest types, as well as significant gradients in pollutant deposition. We developed an approach (Aber et al. 1993) which combined a high resolution GIS with statistical models to summarize important climate drivers and a simple, lumped parameter model to predict water, carbon and nitrogen dynamics across the region. All of the components of this systems are now in place and have been used to derive site-level and region-wide estimates of forest NPP and water yield under current conditions and those predicted for the next century.

Figure 7.
Figure 8
Figure 7 Elevation Figure 8 Landcover from AVHRR

Figure 9.
Figure 9 Mean Annual Temperature

Figure 10.
Figure 10 Mean Annual Precipitation

Figure 11.
Figure 11 Annual Nitrogen Deposition

Figure 12.
Figure 12 Annual Sulfur Deposition
For the New England/New York regional GIS, a 30 arc-second (approximately 1 km.) digital elevation model (DEM, Figure 7) was obtained from the USGS, and a 1 km. land use/land cover (LULC) map (Figure 8) was derived from AVHRR satellite data that identifies current vegetation as hardwood, spruce-fir, pine and mixed forest types (Lathrop and Bognar, Rutgers University). In the absence of a successfully-validated soil WHC coverage (Lathrop et al. 1994), we have used a regional mean value of 12 cm. Mean monthly climate values are determined as functions of latitude, longitude and elevation, using a statistical climate model developed for the region in combination with the DEM (e.g. temperature Figure 9, precipitation Figure 10; Ollinger et al. 1995). Existing data on wet deposition and atmospheric concentrations of dry deposition components were used to derive regional patterns in deposition of all major ions (e.g. nitrogen Figure 11, sulfur Figure 12; Ollinger et al. 1993, 199 ). In concert with the development of the regional GIS we began to work on a new forest ecosystem model which would summarize accepted physiological controls on water, C and N dynamics in as simple a structure as possible, requiring only those inputs which could be defined within a regional GIS. The result of this effort to date is PnET, a nested series of lumped-parameter models of carbon, nitrogen and water fluxes in temperate and boreal forest ecosystems (Figure 13). The different versions of PnET are modular and build out from simplest to most complex. Algorithms such as photosynthesis which are common to all versions are identical between versions. Increasing complexity occurs by layering additional algorithms, representing additional processes, over the core processes in simpler or included versions.

Figure 13.
Figure 13 The PnET Family - Nested Models of Forest Biogeochemistry

PnET-Day uses foliar mass, specific leaf weight, foliar N concentration, temperature and radiation flux to predict daily gross and net photosynthesis of whole forest canopies, and has been validated against daily summaries of eddy correlation carbon balance measurements from the Harvard Forest (Aber et al. 1996). PnET-II adds carbon allocation and respiration terms, as well as a full water balance to predict NPP, transpiration and runoff. An empirical soil respiration terms allows prediction of total ecosystem carbon balance under ambient conditions. This version has been validated against annual NPP and monthly water yield data from the Harvard Forest and Hubbard Brook ecosystems and is used to predict the combined effects of climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 on these processes (Aber et al. 1995). An earlier version (Aber and Federer 1992) was also validated against data from 10 additional forest types across North America, and a recent modification has extended the model to predict effects of tropospheric ozone concentrations (Ollinger et al. 1997).

PnET-CN adds compartments for woody biomass and soil organic matter, as well as algorithms for biomass turnover and litter and soil decomposition to allow calculation of complete carbon and nitrogen cycles. This version maintains the predictions for NPP and water balance used for validation in PnET-II, and also compares well with field data in predicting total annual, mean seasonal, and actual time series rates of nitrate loss in streams (Aber et al. 1997a, 1997b). An additional version of the model (PnET-BGC) is under development. This uses multiple element limitations on NPP and element concentrations in all pools to calculate cycling rates for all elements. This version has been combined with the soil chemistry model CHESS (Santore and Driscoll, Syracuse University) and used to predict stream and soil chemistry (Postek et al. 1995). Both the PnET-CN and PnET/CHESS versions represent significant collaborative efforts with Dr. Charles Driscoll and other cooperators from the Hubbard Brook LTER site.

Figure 14.
Figure 14 Annual Net Ecosystem Production

Figure 15.
Figure 15 Annual Runoff

For regional productivity and water balances, PnET has been run for each pixel of the 1 km resolution GIS data base. Predicted outputs include annual net ecosystem production (Figure 14), net primary production, wood production and water yield (Figure 15). Regional validation of water yield predictions have been carried out using data summarized from gauged watersheds (Ollinger et al. 1997, Bishop et al. 1997). Initial assessments of climate change effects were made by Aber et al. (1995). Interactions with O3 have been addressed by Ollinger et al. (1996, 1997). Impacts of N deposition have been discussed relative to the ability of forest ecosystems to retain and cycle N under undisturbed (Aber et al. 1997a) and manipulated (Aber et al. 1997b) conditions. PnET has been used in other settings as well. A methodology similar to that described here has been used to develop soil and climate data planes, and to run PnET regionally to predict potential forest productivity under current and double CO2 conditions for Ireland, a country where afforestation is occurring rapidly (Goodale et al. 1997a,b). At the other extreme in spatial coverage, PnET has been used in conjunction with estimates of canopy chemistry obtained by high resolution remote sensing for the Prospect Hill tract at Harvard Forest (Martin and Aber 1996, 1997). Applications to sites in Japan, France and the Czech republic have been carried out and manuscripts are submitted or in preparation.


Aber, J.D. and C.A. Federer. 1992. A generalized, lumped-parameter model of photosynthesis, evapotranspiration and net primary production in temperate and boreal forest ecosystems. Oecologia 92:463-474.

Aber, J.D. and C.T. Driscoll. In review. Effects of land use, climate variation and N deposition on N cycling and C storage in northern hardwood forests. Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

Aber, J.D., C.T. Driscoll, C.A. Federer, R. Lathrop, G. Lovett, J.M. Melillo, P. Steudler and J. Vogelmann. 1993. A strategy for the regional analysis of the effects of physical and chemical climate change on biogeochemical cycles in northeastern (U.S.) forests. Ecological Modeling 67:37-47.

Aber, J.D., P.B. Reich and M.l. Goulden. 1996. Extrapolating leaf CO2 exchange to the canopy: a generalized model of forest photosynthesis validated by eddy correlation. Oecologia 106:257-265.

Aber, J.D., S.V. Ollinger, C.A. Federer and C. Driscoll. In press. Modeling nitrogen saturation in forest ecosystems in response to land use and atmospheric deposition. Ecological Modelling.

Aber, J.D., S.V. Ollinger, C.A. Federer, P.B. Reich, M.L. Goulden, D.W. Kicklighter, J.M. Melillo and R.G. Lathrop, Jr. 1995. Predicting the effects of climate change on water yield and forest production in the Northeastern U.S. Climate Research 5:207-222.

Bishop, G.D., M.R. Church, J.D. Aber, R.P. Neilson, S.V. Ollinger and C. Daley. In review. A comparison of mapped estimates of long-term runoff in the northeastern United States. Journal of Hydrology.

Goodale, C.L., J.D. Aber and E.P. Farrell. In review. Applying an uncalibrated, physiologically based model of forest productivity to Ireland. Climate Research.

Goodale, C.L., J.D. Aber and S.V. Ollinger. Mapping monthly precipitation, temperature and solar radiation for Ireland with polynomial regression and a digitial elevation model. Climate Research.

Lathrop, R.G., J.D. Aber and J.A. Bognar. 1995. Spatial variability of digital soil maps and its impact on regional ecosystem modeling. Ecological Modeling 82:1-10.

Martin, M.E. and J.D. Aber. Estimating canopy characteristics as inputs for models of forest carbon exchange by high spectral resolution remote sensing. IN: Gholz, H.G., K. Nakane and H. Shimoda (eds.) The use of remote sensing in the modeling of forest productivity. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 61-72.

Martin, M.E. and J.D. Aber. 1997. Estimation of forest canopy lignin and nitrogen concentration and ecosystem processes by high spectral resolution remote sensing. Ecological Applications 7:431-443.

Ollinger, S.V., J.D. Aber and C.A Federer. In review. Estimating regional forest productivity and water yield using and ecosystem model linked to a GIS. Landscape Ecology.

Ollinger, S.V., J.D. Aber and P.B. Reich. Simulating ozone effects on forest productivity: interactions between leaf,- canopy- and stand-level processes. Ecological Applications.

Ollinger, S.V., J.D. Aber, C.A. Federer, G.M. Lovett and J.M. Ellis. 1995. Modeling physical and chemical climatic variables across the northeastern U.S. for a geographic information system. U.S.D.A. U.S. Forest Service General Technical Report NE-191. 30p.

Ollinger, S.V., J.D. Aber, G.M. Lovett, S.E. Millham, R.G. Lathrop and J.M. Ellis. 1993. A spatial model of atmospheric deposition for the northeastern U.S. Ecological Applications 3:459-4.

Postek, K.M., C.T. Driscoll, J.D. Aber and R.C. Santore. 1995. Application of PnET-CN/CHESS to a spruce stand in Solling, Germany. Ecological Modeling 83:163-1.

Landscape and Regional Impacts of Hurricanes in New England and Puerto Rico

E. Boose, K. Chamberlin, M. Serrano, D. Foster

This project is studying the long-term hurricane disturbance regimes of New England and Puerto Rico with a focus on the Harvard Forest (central Massachusetts) and the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF; northeastern Puerto Rico), two LTER sites with very different climate, topography, forest vegetation, and land-use history. Our approach combines historical research with computer modeling to reconstruct the impacts of past hurricanes at spatial scales ranging from site (~1 km) to landscape (~10 km) to regional (> 100 km).

Figure 16.
1991 Actual Damage by Town For each hurricane, reports of actual wind damage to trees, buildings, and other property are collected and indexed by town to create a database for each storm. Primary sources are newspapers for recent centuries and personal diaries and chronicles for earlier storms. Each report is assigned a Fujita scale (F-scale) value using the classification scheme proposed by T. Fujita for assessing wind damage in tornadoes and hurricanes. A map of actual wind damage for each hurricane is then created by using the maximum F-scale value for each town in the database (e.g. Hurricane Bob, Figure 16; Boose et al. 1997).

Regional wind conditions and wind damage are reconstructed for each storm using a simple meteorological model (HURRECON; Boose et al. 1997, Boose et al. 1994). The model utilizes data on the track, size, and intensity of a hurricane to reconstruct wind conditions at specific sites and regional gradients of wind speed and direction during a storm. The model can also predict damage on the Fujita scale using the correlations between peak wind speed and damage proposed by Fujita. In historical reconstructions the model provides informed estimates for sites lacking actual observations.

Figure 17.
Figure 17 1991 Predicted - Actual Damage The HURRECON model is parameterized for each region through detailed studies of recent hurricanes. All reconstructions are tested by comparing model results with available wind and damage data (e.g. Hurricane Bob, Figure 17). Input data for Atlantic hurricanes since 1886 are derived from the NOAA HURDAT database. For earlier hurricanes, storm tracks and maximum wind speeds are estimated from observed peak wind directions, observed storm surges, and the regional patterns of observed wind damage. Composite maps of long-term regional impacts are created by compiling the results of individual hurricane reconstructions.

At a landscape scale, local topography may create complex patterns of exposure to damaging winds. These topographic effects are estimated with a simple model of topographic exposure to wind (EXPOS; Boose et al. 1994). Wherever possible model results are compared with actual maps of landscape-level damage.

Figure 18.
Figure 18 New England 1620 - 1996 F2 Damage Results to date for New England show strong gradients across the region from southeast (CT, RI, and southeastern MA coastlines) to northwest (northern VT, NH, and ME) both in maximum intensity and in frequency of hurricanes of a given intensity. These gradients resulted from the consistent direction of the storm tracks, the shape of the coastline, and the tendency for hurricanes to weaken rapidly over land or over cold ocean water. Twenty-six hurricanes were reconstructed for the period 1620-1885, and 36 hurricanes for the period 1886-1996. Average return intervals for F0 damage (defoliation, branch break, occasional blowdowns) ranged from 5 to 110 years; average return intervals for F1 damage (isolated blowdowns) ranged from 10 years to none in 110 years; and average return intervals for F2 damage (extensive blowdowns) ranged from 95 years to none in 375 years (Figure 18). Hurricane impacts at individual sites appeared to be clustered in time, with significant differences over relatively short distances (e.g. 100 km between Petersham, MA and Providence, RI, Figure 19). In Petersham (central Massachusetts) most of the landscape was apparently subject to F2 damage during the historical period, with small areas in protected valleys experiencing only F1 damage (Figure 20).

Figure 19.
Figure 19 1620-1996 Major Hurricanes
Figure 20.
Figure 20 Petersham, MA
Figure 21.
Figure 21 Puerto RIco 1886-1996 F2 Damage
Preliminary results for Puerto Rico also show gradients across the island from southeast to northwest in hurricane frequency and intensity, though all areas were subject to repeated damage from hurricane winds. Both frequency and intensity were significantly greater than in New England: preliminary estimates for 71 hurricanes during the period 1886-1996 showed average return intervals in the LEF of 11 years for F1 damage, 22 years for F2 damage (Figure 21), and 111 years for F3 damage. Hurricane impacts at individual sites appeared to be clustered in time, with significant differences over relatively short distances (e.g. 150 km between the LEF and Mayaguez, Figure 22). In the LEF, landscape-level damage during this 111 year period was dominated by F3 winds from the NE and E during the 1928 hurricane, with lesser damage (F2) on southwestern slopes and scattered pockets of minor damage (F1) or no damage in deep valleys or ravines (view toward south, Figure 23; view toward north, Figure 24. Future work will examine the major hurricanes of the earlier historical period, 1508-1885.
Figure 22.
Figure 22 1886-1996 All Hurricanes

Figure 23.
Figure 23 Luquillo Experimental Forest 1886-1996 Maximum Predicted Damage (view toward south)

Figure 24.
Figure 24 Luquillo Experimental Forest 1886-1996 Maximum Predicted Damage (view toward north)
The approach developed in this project can be used to study the impacts of past hurricanes in any part of the world where good historical records survive. Results can be combined with evidence of other past disturbances (e.g. fire, disease, human land-use) to build a more complete picture of long-term forest disturbance regimes for a particular region.


Boose, E. R., K. E. Chamberlin and D. R. Foster. 1997. Reconstructing historical hurricanes in New England. Pp. 388-389 in Preprints of 22nd Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, American Meteorological Society, Boston, MA.

Boose, E. R., D. R. Foster, and M. Fluet. 1994. Hurricanes impacts to tropical and temperate forest landscapes. Ecological Monographs 64: 369-400.

Foster, D. R., M. Fluet and E. R. Boose. In review. Human or natural disturbance: landscape-scale dynamics of the tropical forests of Puerto Rico. Ecological Applications.

Foster, D. R. and E. R. Boose. 1995. Hurricane disturbance regimes in temperate and tropical forest ecosystems. Pp. 305-339 in Wind and Trees. M. P. Coutts, ed. Cambridge University Press.

Foster, D. R. and E. R. Boose. 1992. Patterns of forest damage resulting from catastrophic wind in central New England, U.S.A. Journal of Ecology 80: 79-98.

Foster, D. R. 1988. Disturbance history, community organization and vegetation dynamics of the old-growth Pisgah Forest, south-western New Hampshire, U.S.A. Journal of Ecology 76: 105-134.

Foster, D. R. 1988. Species and stand response to catastrophic wind in central New England, U.S.A. Journal of Ecology 76: 135-151.


Regionalization studies at the Harvard Forest LTER have been supported by funds from the following sources:

  • Bermuda Biological Station for Research
  • Dept. of Energy - National Institute for Global Environmental Change
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • A. W. Mellon Foundation
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • National Biological Service (LUHNA)
  • National Science Foundation - Ecosystems Studies
  • National Science Foundation - Long-term Studies
  • National Science Foundation - Research Experience for Undergraduates
  • U.S. Forest Service

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