October 2, 2020 at 8:15 pm

Plant Biology Colloquium | Human Ecology of an Appalachian Forest, Oct. 16

Glenn Matlack, portrait

Dr. Glenn Matlack

The Environmental & Plant Biology Colloquium Series presents Dr. Glenn Matlack discussing Human ecology of an Appalachian forest: Economic and demographic drivers of land use change over 230 years” on Oct. 16 at 11:50 a.m.

Matlack is Associate Professor of Environmental & Plant Biology at Ohio University.

Abstract: The structure and species composition of a second-growth forest is largely determined by its history of human land use and abandonment. To understand the human dimension of forest regeneration in Southeast Ohio, my students and I have examined drivers of rural land use in three counties around Athens. The land-use effects of mineral extraction, agriculture, and developing transportation were reconstructed from historical documents and census records over a span of 230 years. In the early 19th century, the local economy was based on small-scale agriculture, lumber and salt extraction for local use and for export on the Ohio River. Through the 19th and early 20th century, the most important land use was cereal production and livestock husbandry facilitated by construction of a canal and a railroad network in the mid and late 19th century. Underground coal mining expanded rapidly serving national markets between 1880-1920, but its long-term legacy has been minor due to its small aboveground footprint. After 1926, hard-surfaced roads linked the study area directly to outside markets. Agricultural abandonment began ca. 1920 in response to regional and national declines in commodity prices, initiating a phase of natural forest regeneration. The most rapid abandonment occurred between 1950-1970 corresponding to a nationwide decline in the dairy industry. However, abandonment was moderated by a diversified economy in areas around large towns. Thus, the biological structure and composition of modern forests are a direct result of long-term variation in national commodity markets played out in the context of local site quality and accessibility.

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