Native American impacts on fire regimes of the California coastal ranges

Native American impacts on fire regimes of the California coastal ranges Aim Native American burning impacts on California shrubland dominated landscapes are evaluated relative to the natural lightning fire potential for affecting landscape patterns. Location Focus was on the coastal ranges of central and southern California. Methods Potential patterns of Indian burning were evaluated based upon historical documents, ethnographic accounts, archaeological records and consideration of contemporary land management tactics. Patterns of vegetation distribution in this region were evaluated relative to environmental factors and the resilience of the dominant shrub vegetation to different fire frequencies. Results Lightning fire frequency in this region is one of the lowest in North America and the density of pre‐Columbian populations was one of the highest. Shrublands dominate the landscape throughout most of the region. These woody communities have weak resilience to high fire frequency and are readily displaced by annual grasses and forbs under high fire frequency. Intact shrublands provided limited resources for native Americans and thus there was ample motivation for using fire to degrade this vegetation to an open mosaic of shrubland/grassland, not unlike the agropastoral modification of ecologically related shrublands by Holocene peoples in the Mediterranean Basin. Alien‐dominated grasslands currently cover approximately one‐quarter of the landscape and less than 1% of these grasslands have a significant native grass presence. Ecological studies in the Californian coastal ranges have failed to uncover any clear soil or climate factors explaining grassland and shrubland distribution patterns. Main conclusions Coastal ranges of California were regions of high Indian density and low frequency of lightning fires. The natural vegetation dominants on this landscape are shrubland vegetation that often form dense impenetrable stands with limited resources for Native Americans. Natural fire frequencies are not high enough to maintain these landscapes in habitable mixtures of shrublands and grasslands but such landscape mosaics are readily produced with additional human subsidy of ignitions. It is hypothesized that a substantial fraction of the landscape was type converted from shrubland to grassland and much of the landscape that underwent such type conversion has either been maintained by Euro‐American land management practices or resisted recolonization of native shrublands. It appears that these patterns are disturbance dependent and result from anthropogenic alteration of landscapes initiated by Native Americans and sustained and expanded upon by Euro‐American settlers. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Biogeography Wiley

Native American impacts on fire regimes of the California coastal ranges

Journal of Biogeography, Volume 29 (3) – Mar 1, 2002

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Publisher
Wiley
Copyright
Copyright © 2002 Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
ISSN
0305-0270
eISSN
1365-2699
DOI
10.1046/j.1365-2699.2002.00676.x
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Aim Native American burning impacts on California shrubland dominated landscapes are evaluated relative to the natural lightning fire potential for affecting landscape patterns. Location Focus was on the coastal ranges of central and southern California. Methods Potential patterns of Indian burning were evaluated based upon historical documents, ethnographic accounts, archaeological records and consideration of contemporary land management tactics. Patterns of vegetation distribution in this region were evaluated relative to environmental factors and the resilience of the dominant shrub vegetation to different fire frequencies. Results Lightning fire frequency in this region is one of the lowest in North America and the density of pre‐Columbian populations was one of the highest. Shrublands dominate the landscape throughout most of the region. These woody communities have weak resilience to high fire frequency and are readily displaced by annual grasses and forbs under high fire frequency. Intact shrublands provided limited resources for native Americans and thus there was ample motivation for using fire to degrade this vegetation to an open mosaic of shrubland/grassland, not unlike the agropastoral modification of ecologically related shrublands by Holocene peoples in the Mediterranean Basin. Alien‐dominated grasslands currently cover approximately one‐quarter of the landscape and less than 1% of these grasslands have a significant native grass presence. Ecological studies in the Californian coastal ranges have failed to uncover any clear soil or climate factors explaining grassland and shrubland distribution patterns. Main conclusions Coastal ranges of California were regions of high Indian density and low frequency of lightning fires. The natural vegetation dominants on this landscape are shrubland vegetation that often form dense impenetrable stands with limited resources for Native Americans. Natural fire frequencies are not high enough to maintain these landscapes in habitable mixtures of shrublands and grasslands but such landscape mosaics are readily produced with additional human subsidy of ignitions. It is hypothesized that a substantial fraction of the landscape was type converted from shrubland to grassland and much of the landscape that underwent such type conversion has either been maintained by Euro‐American land management practices or resisted recolonization of native shrublands. It appears that these patterns are disturbance dependent and result from anthropogenic alteration of landscapes initiated by Native Americans and sustained and expanded upon by Euro‐American settlers.

Journal

Journal of BiogeographyWiley

Published: Mar 1, 2002

References

  • Comparative water relations of adjacent California shrub and grassland communities
    Davis, Davis; Mooney, Mooney
  • Community changes following shrub invasion of grassland
    Hobbs, Hobbs; Mooney, Mooney
  • Demographic structure of California chaparral in the long‐term absence of fire
    Keeley, Keeley
  • The historic fire regime in southern California shrublands
    Keeley, Keeley; Fotheringham, Fotheringham
  • History and management of crown fire ecosystems: a summary and response
    Keeley, Keeley; Fotheringham, Fotheringham
  • Differential Seed Predation on Two Species of Arctostaphylos (Ericaceae)
    Keeley, Keeley; Hays, Hays
  • Cultural niche construction and human evolution
    Laland, Laland; Odling‐Smee, Odling‐Smee; Feldman, Feldman

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