UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changes in the landscape and vegetation of southeastern Vancouver Island and Saltspring Island, Canada since European settlement Bjorkman, Anne Donahey


Early land survey records can be used to reconstruct the historical distribution and abundance of tree species prior to the large-scale impact of industrialized societies. Comparing these records to current vegetation patterns enables an examination of the shifts that have occurred in plant communities since the arrival of European settlers in North America. I used presettlement (1859-1874) land survey records from southeastern Vancouver Island and Saltspring Island, British Columbia, Canada to reconstruct the relative abundance and density of tree species in these areas. I then collected equivalent vegetation data from the same points in the modern landscape, which enabled me to compare the two points in time and identify the changes in large-scale vegetation patterns that have occurred since European settlement. My results show a significant increase in the relative abundance of maple (Acer macrophyllum) and cedar (Thuja plicata), and a corresponding decrease in Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menzeisii). Furthermore, there has been a considerable increase in tree density in undeveloped areas. The 1859 records indicate that at least one third of the land surveyed was made up of prairies or open “plains,” while a combination of open woods and forests made up the remaining two thirds. Based on comparable density measures from 2007, prairies and plains now represent less than 5% of the undeveloped landscape, while forests comprise nearly 90%. These changes are likely due to a combination of factors that have been influenced by European settlement, most notably logging and fire suppression. The suppression of fire has led to an infilling of trees into previously open areas and has led to the rapid decline of the open prairie and savanna habitat types once common in this area. The results of this study can inform conservation efforts throughout the study area, particularly those involving the restoration of prairie or savanna habitats.

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