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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


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Title: A historical perspective on the development of the ecological site concept

item Brown, Joel
item Derner, Justin
item Alexander, Jack

Submitted to: Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/2/2010
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The dominant disciplines in natural resource management, forestry and range science, have both developed over the past century with the “site” concept as a core principle. Forest managers employed a site concept focused primarily on the influence of a specific set of climate and soil factors on forest production; in particular on the selection of appropriate species for replanting after burns and timber harvest. Pioneering range scientists adapted the site concept with an emphasis on the control climatic and edaphic factors exerted on plant community composition and sustainable forage production. The rangeland application used the concept of ‘regional climax’ modified by variations in soil development factors at finer scales to predict species composition and production and served as the basis for management interpretations. Recent advances in ecology have forced some rethinking in the basic principles of site description. While the contemporary multi-stable state view of the dynamics of plant communities has been relatively well accounted for by employing state and transition models, the shift in emphasis away from similarity of a climax community as a way to group soil units may require reconsideration of organizing principles. Rather than a characteristic plant community, ecological dynamics provide more appropriate criteria for grouping land units into ecological sites. Within a specified climatic regime, landscape position and static soil properties are the best predictors of ecological dynamics in response to changes in management. The shift from climax vegetation to soil properties as an organizing basis for delineating landscape components will likely require a reconsideration of the design of ecological sites.

Last Modified: 06/25/2017
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