• Using Homestead Records and Aerial Photos to Investigate Historical Cultivation in the United States

      Morris, Lesley R. (Society for Range Management, 2012-04-01)
      Without consideration of prior cultivation history, we may misinterpret the results of a study or the success of management practices in rangelands. Cultivation involves plowing the soil, seeding, and harvesting a crop annually. The long-lasting impacts, known as “land-use legacies,” from these disturbances on soils and native plant communities have been observed in ecosystems worldwide for decades, centuries, and even millennia after cultivation ceases. In sagebrush ecosystems, cultivation can be one of the most drastic disturbances, with recovery taking well over 90 years in some places. These legacies include altered vegetation, soils, and hydrology. The reestablishment of native species in formerly cultivated areas is typically slowed, if not halted, due to loss of native seedbanks, limited dispersal, and loss of establishment niches. In contrast, exotic and invasive species are often quick to establish and dominate formerly cultivated land. Cultivation can also modify soil structure, texture, and nutrient content. Plowing breaks up soil structure, making it more susceptible to erosion and loss of soil organic matter and nutrients. Plowing also can lead to soil compaction, which affects primary hydrological processes like soil water-holding capacity, run off, and infiltration. These legacies are important because they represent fundamental changes in the structure and function of ecosystems. Unfortunately, the influence of this historical land use is often overlooked in ecological studies, research design, and management implementation.