Geophysical features influence the climate change sensitivity of northern Wisconsin pine and oak forests

Michael A. Tweiten, Randy Calcote, Elizabeth A. Lynch, Sara C. Hotchkiss, Gregor W. Schuurman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Landscape-scale vulnerability assessment from multiple sources, including paleoecological site histories, can inform climate change adaptation. We used an array of lake sediment pollen and charcoal records to determine how soils and landscape factors influenced the variability of forest composition change over the past 2000 years. The forests in this study are located in northwestern Wisconsin on a sandy glacial outwash plain. Soils and local climate vary across the study area. We used the Natural Resource Conservation Service's Soil Survey Geographic soil database and published fire histories to characterize differences in soils and fire history around each lake site. Individual site histories differed in two metrics of past vegetation dynamics: the extent to which white pine (Pinus strobus) increased during the Little Ice Age (LIA) climate period and the volatility in the rate of change between samples at 50-120 yr intervals. Greater increases of white pine during the LIA occurred on sites with less sandy soils (R2=0.45, P < 0.0163) and on sites with relatively warmer and drier local climate (R2=0.55, P < 0.0056). Volatility in the rate of change between samples was positively associated with LIA fire frequency (R2=0.41, P < 0.0256). Over multi-decadal to centennial timescales, forest compositional change and rate-of-change volatility were associated with higher fire frequency. Over longer (multi-centennial) time frames, forest composition change, especially increased white pine, shifted most in sites with more soil moisture. Our results show that responsiveness of forest composition to climate change was influenced by soils, local climate, and fire. The anticipated climatic changes in the next century will not produce the same community dynamics on the same soil types as in the past, but understanding past dynamics and relationships can help us assess how novel factors and combinations of factors in the future may influence various site types. Our results support climate change adaptation efforts to monitor and conserve the landscape's full range of geophysical features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1984-1996
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Climate change
  • Conserving the stage
  • Fire
  • Forest composition change
  • Geophysical features
  • Landscape context
  • Pine and oak forests
  • Pollen records
  • Sand plain
  • Soils
  • USA
  • Vegetation
  • Wisconsin


Dive into the research topics of 'Geophysical features influence the climate change sensitivity of northern Wisconsin pine and oak forests'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this