Habitat specificity of tree species has traditionally been determined by identifying synchronous abiotic characteristics and species presence on the landscape. On a local scale this identifies many species as specialists; however, on a regional scale, most tree species are classified as generalists because individual species are present across a wide-range of edaphic and topographic conditions. To improve our ecological understanding of habitat specificity in trees, we classified white oak (Quercus alba) based on two performance currencies: responsiveness to climate and maximum tree age. We sampled tree rings from both ridge and valley stands in the southern Appalachian Mountains to contrast the dendroclimatic response at these topographic positions. White oak had radial growth responses to Palmer Drought Severity Index, temperature, and precipitation that was not dependent upon topographic position (ridge vs. valley), suggesting that white oak is a generalist species. A dendroclimatic response that is not dependent upon topographic position should allow white oak to adapt readily to climatic shifts that span a range of environmental conditions. Tree age has served as a successful performance currency in relatively undisturbed forests; however, in the southern Appalachian Mountains where there is a long history of human disturbance, maximum tree age revealed more about regional logging history than about white oak habitat specificity. Understanding habitat specificity of plant species improves predictions of species' response to environmental change. Traditionally trees have been classified based on occurrence on the landscape; however, in heavily-impacted forests occurrence is a reflection of land-use history. Dendroclimatology offers a more accurate tool to assess a tree's habitat specificity and was successfully applied in several ridge and valley sites in the Appalachian Mountains to identify white oak as a generalist species.
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