Documenting changes in forest composition and structure through time and in response to disturbances strengthens our understanding of the processes that have created contemporary forest ecosystems. Results from these studies also provide the historical range of variation in forest characteristics, which is essential for establishing place-based targets for forest management. Using historical archives and current forest inventory data from the past two centuries, we quantified forest composition and structure following fundamental shifts in land use for a forest in the Fall Line Hills of Alabama (pre-European settlement (1820 and 1842), pre-industrial logging (1905), U.S. Forest Service acquisition (1943), and contemporary conditions (present)). To quantify conditions prior to European settlement, we analyzed General Land Office surveys of 1820 and 1842. We used Reed (1905) and Harper (1943) to document conditions during the early to mid-20th century. To quantify current forest conditions, we sampled 80 0.04 ha fixed area plots throughout the study area. Forest structure shifted from relatively large trees at low densities, with few small stems prior to European settlement to a relatively high density of small stems, with few large trees post-industrial logging. Although relative contributions of species varied over the past two centuries, forest composition remained relatively stable. Despite changes in land use, Pinus palustris remained the most common species in the forest.
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