Native American influences on the forest composition of the Allegheny Plateau, northwest Pennsylvania

Bryan A. Black, Charles M. Ruffner, Marc D. Abrams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


We integrate witness tree distribution, Native American archaeological sites, and geological and topographic variables to investigate the relationships between Native American populations and pre-European settlement forest types on the Allegheny Plateau, northwest Pennsylvania. Detrended correspondence analysis of witness tree data separated the presettlement forests into oak-hickory-chestnut and beech-hemlock-maple communities. Oak, hickory, and chestnut forests were centered on Native American village sites. Using archaeological data, an index of Native American influence (NAI) was derived to reflect the intensity of Native American land use across the landscape. In a comparison among species, mean NAI value of oak, hickory, and chestnut trees was significantly higher than that of beech, maple, and hemlock. Logistic regression demonstrated that among geology type, landform, elevation, aspect, slope, and NAI, NAI was by far the most significant predictor of oak, hickory, and chestnut distribution. Although cause and effect of this relationship cannot be tested, we suggest that long-term Native American activity selected for the disturbance-adapted oak, hickory, and chestnut. We contend that Native American agriculture, burning, and resource extraction could have converted maple-beech-hemlock to oak-hickory-chestnut, or at least reinforced the dominance of this forest type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1266-1275
Number of pages10
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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