Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Land-Use Change in the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens Ecoregion

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Land-Use Change in the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens Ecoregion

Article excerpt

Land-use and land-cover (LULL) change is the primary modifier of the landscape, ultimately affecting a broad range of socioeconomic, biological, climatic, and hydrologic systems. Information on the rates, characteristics, and drivers of change are needed if we are to address the impacts and feedbacks of LuLc change on environmental processes. LULC change is inherently a local event (Sohl, Gallant, and Loveland 2004), and LuLc change data are necessary at the local to regional scale if we are to understand the cumulative impacts at multiple scales. Given that the characteristics of LuLc change can vary dramatically among regions, LuLc data that capture the uniqueness of each region are essential (Gallant and others 2004; Sohl, Gallant, and Loveland 2004). Although researchers have conducted innumerable LuLc-change studies, without common spatial, temporal, and thematic frameworks it is difficult for Inc scientists to understand the linkages between different LuLc analyses and develop generalized and widely applicable LuLc theory.

The U.S. Geological Survey's (usGs's) Land Cover Trends project focuses on understanding the rates, trends, patterns, causes, and consequences of contemporary LuLc change in the conterminous United States (Loveland and others 2002). It uses a consistent framework to provide estimates of LuLc change by ecoregion, providing the basis for telling the unique story of change for eighty-four different Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Level III ecoregions (Omernik 1987). (1) Its results also fulfill the need for a regionally stratified, national-scale analysis of LuLc change (Gallant and others 2004; Sohl, Gallant, and Loveland 2004; Loveland and Acevedo 2007).

In this article we examine LULC change from 1973 to 2000 in one ecoregion, the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens, a relatively small area covering parts of New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts that once comprised unique habitats, including pitch pine and scrub oak, cedar swamps, and maritime grasslands (Figure 1). Despite major conservation efforts (Good and Good 1984; Mason 1992), however, urbanization and urban sprawl encroached on significant parts of the ecoregion (Dinerstein and others 2010). The Land Cover Trends project methodology provides data to quantify these changes, capturing contemporary rates and patterns of land-cover change. Within the context of these data, we look at the primary driving forces of recent Inc change in the ecoregion and relate the changes to the theoretical constructs of "Forest Transition Theory" (FTT) and the "Quiet Revolution" (QR).


The Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecoregion covers about 16,000 square kilometers of the coastal plain--roughly the southern half of New Jersey, New York's Long Island, and Massachusetts's Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and nearby islands (see Figure 1). It is the second smallest of the eighty-four EPA Level III ecoregions (Omernik 1987). Rainfall averages around 122 centimeters per year, but the soil is sandy, extremely porous, and drains very quickly. The soils are generally dry, except where the Cohansey-Kirkwood Aquifer intersects the surface, resulting in the bogs and swamps (Canace and Sugarman 2009). A wide variety of relatively rare ecological community types exist here, among them pitch-pine scrub-oak barrens, cedar swamps and sphagnum bogs, coastal plain salt ponds and dune systems, and unique maritime grasslands.

Fire is a major natural disturbance factor that influences the composition of vegetation in the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecoregion (Little 1979; Mason 1992; Russell 1994). In the absence of disturbance, the vegetation cover likely would become dominated by oaks and other hardwoods (Little and Moore 1949; Buell and Cantlon 195o). However, fires often sweep across the land, giving the advantage to species able to survive and even thrive after a conflagration (Mason 1992). …

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