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Title: The Southern High Plains: A history of vegetation, 1540 to present

Author: Wester, David B.;

Date: 2007

Source: In: Sosebee, Ronald E.; Wester, David B.; Britton, Carlton M.; McArthur, E. Durant; Kitchen, Stanley G., comps. Proceedings: Shrubland dynamics -- fire and water; 2004 August 10-12; Lubbock, TX. Proceedings RMRS-P-47. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 24-47.

Publication Series: Proceedings (P)

   Note: This article is part of a larger document. View the larger document

Description: Considerable documentary evidence is available about the historic vegetation of the Southern High Plains (SHP). Accounts spanning about 350 years (from the earliest European explorers in the 1540s to scientists working in the later 19th and early 20th centuries), however, lead to vague and sometimes contradictory conclusions about the nature of this vegetation. The earliest documents describe the SHP as vast grassland. The fact that native soils were Paleustolls supports this description. The earliest accounts also suggest considerable vegetation diversity in certain topographic settings (for example, in sandy soils and major draws that cross the SHP). It is also certain that the SHP supported vast populations of native herbivores (which were quickly replaced by large populations of domestic livestock); were subject to climatic variability; and were frequently burned. All of these factors interact with each other at several spatial and temporal scales to affect vegetation. Based on historic documentary evidence, it is difficult to describe the precise nature of the vegetation of the SHP when it was first encountered by European explorers. Although the dominant aspect of the vegetation was that of a grassland, woody species (primarily mesquite, Prosopis glandulosa) were either historically present but unrecorded by early explorers in upland sites because they had limited experience in these sites and/or because recurrent fires maintained populations; or mesquite was introduced in a novel way by domestic livestock beginning in the late 1870s and 1880s. In either of these scenarios, subsequent increases in woody vegetation during the 20th century likely involved changes in fire frequency, grazing history, and climate.

Keywords: wildland shrubs, fire, water, Southern High Plains, SHP, historic vegetation

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Wester, David B. 2007. The Southern High Plains: A history of vegetation, 1540 to present. In: Sosebee, Ronald E.; Wester, David B.; Britton, Carlton M.; McArthur, E. Durant; Kitchen, Stanley G., comps. Proceedings: Shrubland dynamics -- fire and water; 2004 August 10-12; Lubbock, TX. Proceedings RMRS-P-47. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 24-47.

 


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