Peter Butterfield


Presentation: 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Kennedy Union Ballroom



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The current structure and composition of forest ecosystems throughout eastern North America has been determined greatly by historic natural disturbances and successional processes. The white oak tree (Quercus alba) has the largest range among tree species in eastern North America (the Atlantic to the Great Plains, the Great Lakes to the Gulf) and has historical dominance of the canopy. White oaks are a broadleaved tree species that form stands with conifers (Pinus spp.) and/or other broadleaved species (Carya spp., Fraxinus spp., Acer spp., Populus spp., etc.) The white oak group (Leucobalanus) was an important ecosystem service for Indigenous Peoples of eastern North America for hundreds of years and the European colonizers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Among Indigenous groups, oaks (including Q. macrocarpa and Q. rubra) were cultivated and managed for increased growing success. Acorns were used for flour and medicinal mixtures. Branches were used for basket weaving. Stems were used for cabins, canoes, and shelters. In addition to popular human uses, the white oak is of paramount importance for a variety of wildlife, including fungi and bacteria. Q. alba is known to be both historically and culturally important to forest ecosystems, however it is one of numerous species currently experiencing massive regeneration issues with its young offspring. Recruitment failure and a subsequent forest transition of substituting shade-tolerant maple species for oak species could give rise to a largescale shift in biodiversity, wildlife nutrition, and soil characteristics across the Eastern Deciduous Forest (EDF). In addition to a changing climate, the white oak, a paragon of EDF tree species, could quickly become much less secure in conservation status. We examined 65 cross section samples of white oak (n= 62), chestnut oak (n= 2), and shagbark hickory (n= 1) trees for their growth release history and fire scar history. Analyzing and comparing both periods of growth and fire throughout history gave insight into how the current forest came to be and the important factors necessary for successful oak regeneration. Results showed that growth releases and fire occurrence do not have a strong correlation. Only 2 samples exhibited a release within a time lag period of 3 years following a fire. There was a ~70-year period where a fire did not occur, but releases still happened frequently. However, a short period of fires within the 1920s were quickly followed by releases. Foresting the area in order to aid in the Civil War effort between 1850-1875 allowed numerous young oak samples to release, and a similar pattern was seen near WWII. We hypothesize that similar periodic thinning/cutting was done throughout the ~70-year period without fires for these releases to have occurred.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Ryan McEwan

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences

Institutional Learning Goals


A Century of Disturbance and Dynamics During the Establishment of White Oak (Quercus alba) Dominance in Forests of Southeastern Ohio: Implications for Sustainable Forest Management