Shifting disturbance regimes altered the vegetation of the Central Appalachian Ridge and Valley region during the past two centuries. The objective of this research was to use repeated public land surveys to characterize early Euro-American settlement vegetation and identify the nature and timing of post-Euro-American settlement vegetation change in an agricultural watershed in southwestern Virginia, USA. Land surveys (N = 297) from 1786 to 2000 were compared for temporal shifts in tree species, shrubs, stumps, snags, and non-vegetative markers. Tree species used in the land surveys were further classified by sprouting capability, shade tolerance, and seed type, and tested for temporal shifts in frequency. To identify potential topographic sampling bias in the surveys, the distribution of landform references recorded in the deeds was compared to the distribution of landforms classified from a digital elevation model (DEM). Landform references noted in conjunction with witness trees were used to further test for species associations with particular landforms. The pre-Euro-American settlement forest was dominated by Quercus alba L. and Castanea dentata (Marshall) Borkh. Quercus alba and C. dentata were relatively evenly distributed across all landforms, while Quercus montana Willd. and Quercus velutina Lam. were strongly associated with upland landforms. Post-Euro-American settlement landscapes experienced a decline in Q. alba, Q. velutina, and Quercus rubra L. and an increase in Q. montana and C. dentata. Vigorous sprouting and shade intolerance were silvical characteristics that dominated across all sampled land-use periods.
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