Effects of site, landscape features, and fire regime on vegetation patterns in presettlement southern Wisconsin

Lawrence A. Leitner, Christopher P. Dunn, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Forest Stearns, David M. Sharpe

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The presettlement tree cover (1831-33) of 3 townships in a southern Wisconsin landscape was analyzed using original survey records. Four forest types were identified: closed forest, open forest, savanna, and prairie. Comparisons of vegetation types and landscape pattern were made between the east and west sides of the Pecatonica River, which bisects the landscape and could have acted as a natural fire barrier. West of the river, presettlement tree species richness and diversity were lower and trees were smaller in diameter and less dense than to the east. The major vegetation types to the west were prairie (42% of landscape) and savanna (40%), both fire-susceptible types. Prairie was more common on gentle slopes than on other landforms. To the east, the landscape was 70% forested (closed plus open forest). Here, prairie was more frequent on steep dry sites. These vegetation differences, including the contrasting landscape placement of prairie, are attributed to distinct site characteristics and to disturbance (fire) regimes, with the west likely having more frequent fires. In terms of the four vegetation types, the east landscape was more homogeneous, being dominated by closed forest (50%). West of the Pecatonica River, the landscape was more heterogeneous because of the high proportion of both prairie and savanna; however, in terms of flammability of vegetation, the west was essentially homogeneous (82% prairie plus savanna).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-217
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 1991


  • Wisconsin
  • disturbance
  • fire
  • heterogeneity
  • landscape pattern
  • topography


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