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Assessing the Pre-modern Tree Cover of the Ackerman Unit, Tombigbee National Forest, North Central Hills, MS, Using GLO Survey Notes and Archaeological Data
Evan Peacock, John Rodgers, Kevin Bruce, and Jessica Gray

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 7, Number 2 (2008): 245–266

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2008 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 7(2):245–266 Assessing the Pre-modern Tree Cover of the Ackerman Unit, Tombigbee National Forest, North Central Hills, MS, Using GLO Survey Notes and Archaeological Data Evan Peacock1,*, John Rodgers2, Kevin Bruce3, and Jessica Gray4 Abstract - General Land Office (GLO) survey data from the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest, MS are used to characterize early 19th-century tree cover in a part of the North Central Hills physiographic province. Archaeological settlement-pattern data indicate that the area was abandoned ca. A.D. 1000 and that early Historic-period settlement was minimal by the time the GLO surveys were done. The GLO data therefore represent forest conditions as they developed in the absence or near-absence of human infl uence. Tree cover consisted of oak-dominated hardwoods with a non-clustered pine component. The distributions of some hardwood species were related to geological controls. Based on previous archaeological work, the argument concerning minimal human impact can be extended to the entire North Central Hills province, with consequent implications for forest management on federal lands. Introduction General Land Office (GLO) survey notes have long been a standard data source for scientists interested in landscape conditions as they existed prior to extensive modern impacts. One criticism levied against studies employing GLO data is that researchers were paying insufficient attention to the residual effects of American Indian land-management practices on early 19th-century forest cover (Peacock 1998), a practice exemplified by the use of the term “presettlement” (e.g., Anderson and Anderson 1975). This practice continues today (e.g., Bragg 2003, Brewer 2001, Farley et al. 2002, Perkins and Matlack 2002), despite a number of studies that combine GLO data with ethnohistorical and/or archaeological data to clearly demonstrate the infl uence of American Indian populations on the landscape. For example, Foster et al. (2004) recently employed catchment analysis of GLO data to show vegetation differences between early Historic-period Creek Indian town locales and uninhabited control areas in east-central Alabama. GLO data also have been used to document late-prehistoric human environmental impact in Arkansas, where wood was intensively exploited as fuel for boiling off salt brine (Williams 1993). Importantly, however, archaeological data also can be used to argue that American Indian land use was not a significant factor in early 19th-century 1Cobb Institute of Archaeology, PO Box AR, Mississippi State University, 39762. 2Department of Geosciences, PO Box 5548, Mississippi State University, 39762. 3Marcell/Deer River Ranger District, Chippewa National Forest, PO Box 308, 1037 Division Street, Deer River, MN 56636. 4109 Old Farm Road,Perry, GA 31069. *Corresponding author - peacock@anthro.msstate.edu. 246 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 forest composition, if those data indicate a lack of human occupation in an area for a substantial period of time prior to the GLO surveys. In this article, we present evidence that land now comprising the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest, north-central Mississippi, was abandoned by American Indians centuries before the GLO surveys were undertaken, and that Historic-period reoccupation of the area was minimal until the mid-19th century. We argue that the GLO data therefore represent unmodified to minimally modified forest conditions, the major control for which seems to have been geological. Study Area The Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest includes approximately 40,000 acres of federally controlled land lying almost entirely within the North Central Hills physiographic province of central Mississippi (Fig. 1), with the eastern tip extending into the Flatwoods. The province encompasses a broad, highly dissected belt of uplands, with a dendritic drainage pattern feeding generally small streams. The largest waterway crossing the Ackerman Unit, the Noxubee River, has its headwaters in the northwestern part of the unit and eventually flows into the Tombigbee River at Gainesville, AL. Geologically, the North Central Hills consist of Tertiary sands, sandstones, clays, shales, and silts. The sand members are mostly non-marine in origin and were deposited during the Upper Paleocene and Middle Eocene coincident with sea-level trangressions and consequent landscape aggradation. A more detailed discussion of area geology can be found in Peacock and Fant (2002; see also Mellen and McCutcheon 1939, Vestal and McCutcheon 1943). The area is home to a rich prehistoric record, although, as discussed in detail below, American Indian settlement varied in intensity through time (Peacock 1997). Historic settlement in the area began in the 19th century, aided in part by the construction in the 1820s of Robinson Road, a post route that ran through the Ackerman Unit area (Phelps 1950, Rafferty 1979). Access to the area was facilitated by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, in which the land was ceded by the Choctaw Indians. Subsequent settlement consisted primarily of small farmsteads around which cotton and corn agriculture was practiced, with pigs being the major livestock (Moore 1988). With the coming of railroads around the beginning of the 20th century, logging increased in importance in the local economy (Adkins 1979, Carroll 1983, Coleman 1973) as Mississippi became a national leader in lumbering (Fickle 2001). Lands acquired by the government in the 1930s and early 1940s were administered by the Soil Conservation Service until control was passed to the US Department of Agriculture in 1959, when the Tombigbee National Forest was created. Since that time, the land has been managed primarily for timber and game, with pine being maintained as the species of primary economic importance. 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 247 Methods Archaeological site ages and distributions Data on the distribution and age of archaeological sites on the Ackerman Unit have been gathered over a number of years via intensive shovel-test and open-ground surveys designed to locate all sites in proposed impact areas. These surveys have largely focused on ridge tops prior to logging, but a number have been undertaken on other landforms, such as first terraces and bottomlands, with one such project being designed for the sole purpose of evaluating the survey methods (Peacock 1995a, 1996). These surveys have resulted in several hundred prehistoric and Historic-period sites being recorded on the Ackerman Unit. Approximate ages were assigned to individual Figure 1. Location of the A c k e r m a n Unit, Tombigbee National Forest, and Holly Springs National Forest, MS. 248 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 occupations based on the presence of diagnostic artifacts (see Peacock 1995a for details). In the case of prehistoric sites, these included projectile point and pottery types with known temporal spans. In the case of Historic-period (post-1700 A.D.) occupations, artifacts such as decorated ceramics and nails were used, along with bottle glass color and form. Written records, beginning with the GLO notes of 1832–1833 and including the federal government acquisition records dating to the 1930s and early 1940s (Peacock and Patrick 1997), were accessed as complementary sources for site location and age determinations. Although GLO data have been employed in charting Historic-period landscape use (e.g., Silbernagel et al. 1997), maps and written records alone are insufficient for accurate assessments of Historic-period site frequencies. Data from written sources should be combined with archaeological survey data, as we have done here, to insure that the full range and a more accurate number of sites are represented (e.g., Peacock and Patrick 1997). All site locations were entered into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for display at a scale appropriate for the purposes of this paper, but which does not compromise site security. Information on all sites on the Tombigbee National Forest is available to qualified researchers through the US Forest Service. GLO notes Copies of the original GLO notes on file at the Tombigbee Ranger District office, Ackerman, MS were used to compile witness-tree data. The notes date from 1832–1833. All data from within the legal boundaries of the Ackerman Unit were used except in cases where the notes could not be read with certainty. One to four witness trees were recorded by the surveyors at each Township, section, and quarter-section corner, with two being usual. Although most of the data represent trees thus recorded “near” (generally within 50 feet of) points on a half-mile grid, following the instructions of Fisk (1832), surveyors corrected for errors by adjusting the size of sections along the standard parallels. In the case of the study area, this led to a tier of sections of unusually small size along the eastern boundary of Range 12E. A description of the GLO surveys in Mississippi, including the debates and decisions concerning resolution of errors, is provided by Burt (1992). Bias in GLO notes can occur from a number of idiosyncratic sources, such as a desire by surveyors to avoid conifers with sticky sap (Bourdo 1956, Whitney and DeCant 2001). This factor was assessed by comparing distances to witness trees (Bourdo 1956; cf. Delcourt 1975) for all species for which n > 50 (Quercus rubra [red oak], Pinus sp. [pine], Quercus stellata [post oak], Carya sp. [hickory], Quercus velutina [black oak], and Quercus alba [white oak]). Distances to each species were calculated from the notes and the results compared. Because sample sizes are generally small (Table 1), t-tests were used in which unequal variance was assumed, with a 0.95 confidence interval. Differences between the mean distances to the target species were not significant; hence, intentional surveyor bias does not appear to be a problem with this data set. 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 249 Species pattern analysis. The first step in analyzing spatial patterns of individual species was to determine if species distributions were clustered or random within the GLO sampling frame. In order to carry this out, the original GLO data were imported into a GIS. The X- and Y- coordinates (UTM Zone 16N; NAD 1927) of each survey point in the original GLO database were determined from USGS Toposheets. The survey points were then plotted within the GIS, and the attribute table of this GLO data layer had fields consisting of an individual point ID, the corresponding X- and Y- coordinate values, and the number of observed individuals within each species. Next, an attribute query was used to identify only those points that contained a particular species, e.g., red oak. The selected points were then extracted to a new GIS data layer. This step was repeated for each of the most abundant species (red oak, black oak, hickory, pine, white oak, and post oak). Table 1. Witness trees recorded for the Ackerman Unit area in 1832–1833. Species Number Percent Quercus rubra L. (red oak) 161 18.59 Pinus sp. (pine) 150 17.32 Quercus stellata Wangenh. (post oak) 107 12.36 Carya sp. (hickory) 98 11.32 Quercus velutina Lam. (black oak) 79 9.12 Quercus alba L. (white oak) 79 9.12 Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. (black gum) 30 3.46 Quercus marilandica Muencch. (blackjack oak) 17 1.96 Castanea dentate Marsh. (chestnut) 16 1.85 Quercus sp. (spanish oak) 16 1.85 Liriodendron tulipifera L. (poplar) 16 1.85 Ilex sp. (holly) 13 1.50 Liquidambar styracifl ua L. (sweetgum) 11 1.27 Cornus fl orida L. (dogwood) 11 1.27 Fagus grandifolia Ehrh. (beech) 11 1.27 Acer sp. (maple) 9 1.04 Sassafras sp. (sassafras) 6 0.69 Carpinus caroliniana Walt. (hornbeam) 6 0.69 Fraxinus sp. (ash) 4 0.46 Ostrya virginiana K.Koch (Ironwood) 4 0.46 Ulmus sp. (elm) 2 0.23 Quercus bicolor (swamp oak) 2 0.23 Oxydendrum arboretum (L.) DC. (sourwood) 2 0.23 Platanus occidentalis L. (sycamore) 2 0.23 Quercus phellos L. (willow oak) 2 0.23 Nyssa sp. (gum) 2 0.23 Persea sp. (bay) 2 0.23 Ulmus rubra Muhl. (slippery elm) 2 0.23 Prunus persica (L.) Batsch. (peach) 1 0.12 Magnolia acuminate L. (cucumber tree) 1 0.12 Chrysopsis lanuginosa Small (lynn) 1 0.12 Magnolia sp. (magnolia) 1 0.12 Morus rubra L. (mulberry) 1 0.12 Salix nigra Marsh. (willow) 1 0.12 Total 866 100.00 250 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 Nearest neighbor analysis was used to test for significant clustering of important GLO species. The assumption of this analysis is that a clustered point pattern will have a smaller average (Euclidian) distance among samespecies observations than a point pattern that is random. The ratio of the average distance among observed points to an average distance of a hypothetical random point pattern should be less than 1 if the pattern is clustered and nearly equal to one if the pattern is random. The average nearest neighbor function within ArcGIS (ESRI 2005) Spatial Statistics Tools was used to calculate the nearest neighbor ratio of observed and expected average distances. This function also reports a standardized normal score (Z-value) that can be used to determine if the degree of clustering is significantly different than a hypothetical random pattern. A Z value less than -1.65 is significant at alpha = 0.10 and a Z value less than -1.96 is significant at the alpha = 0.05. Nearest neighbor calculations were performed on each of the individual species data layers, and the area used for the calculations was the extent of the Tombigbee National Forest Ackerman Unit proclamation (legal) boundary (311 square km). For ease in calculation, distance between individual species as used in nearest neighbor calculations refers to the distance between section corners where those species were noted to occur (i.e., as presence/absence data), rather than to the XY coordinates of individual trees. The average distance between witness trees of the ten most abundant taxa was 1.47 km; Table 2 shows the observed mean distances between members of each of these species. One potential structural control on vegetation is geological, as the Ackerman Unit is underlain by two geological formations, the Wilcox and the Porters Creek. The Wilcox formation is described as irregularly-bedded fine to coarse sands, ferruginous sandstone, lignitic clays, and limited beds of kaolinitic and bauxitic clays of Eocene age (Moore 1969); it occurs within the western two-thirds of the study area. The Porters Creek, in contrast, is described as primarily dark-gray silty clays with abundant sand Table 2. Nearest neighbor analysis of important species. For significance (sign.): * indicates significant at alpha = 0.10, ** indicates significant at alpha = 0.05, and ns indicates not significant. Expected Observed mean Ratio of mean distance if observed to Pattern Species distance (m) random (m) expected Z-value Sign. type Red oak 942.9 1039.84 0.90 -1.910 * Clustered Black oak 1124.4 1350.41 0.83 -2.410 ** Clustered Hickory 1129.8 1233.49 0.91 -1.140 Ns Random Pine 1014.0 1008.40 1.01 0.116 Ns Random White oak 1262.7 1336.28 0.94 -0.870 Ns Random Post oak 1145.0 1223.80 0.93 -1.135 Ns Random Black gum 1861.1 1753.50 1.06 0.630 Ns Random Chestnut 2122.9 2126.90 0.998 -0.014 Ns Random Spanish oak 1717.8 1921.00 0.89 -0.810 Ns Random Blackjack oak 2439.9 2040.80 1.19 1.449 Ns Random 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 251 beds and lenses in the upper part; it also is of Eocene age (Mellen and Mc- Cutcheon 1939, Moore 1969) and occurs within the eastern one-third of the study area. The Poisson probability distribution was used to investigate differences in the occurrence of species between the Wilcox and Porters Creek geological formations. A 1-km grid was superimposed on top of the GLO GIS data layer and the frequency of species occurrence within each grid cell was tabulated. The frequency values were plotted, and the expected mean frequency per 1-km cell was determined for each species for both geological formations. Additionally, the Poisson probability function was used to calculate the probability of at least one individual occurring within each geological formation. Species diversity across the study area. Differences in species diversity were investigated between the two geological formations. The total GLO GIS data layer was subdivided into two files each containing points for the Wilcox and Porters Creek formations, respectively. To accomplish this, the Mississippi surface geology data layer (MARIS 2007) was subset to the study area. This data layer had polygons representing the different geological formations, and these polygons were intersected with the GLO point file to generate data layers for each formation. Attribute queries were used to determine the number of individuals within each species for each geological formation. Relative abundance of each important species was also calculated from the attribute queries. The Shannon-Wiener diversity index was used to compare the diversity of species between the two geological formations. This index is a measure of both the total number of species and the evenness of individuals within each species per unit area (Barbour et al. 1999). Index values are relative and can be used to compare diversity among different regions. Species distribution and topographic variability. The distribution of each important species was examined in relation to slope, elevation, and aspect. USGS digital elevation models (30-m resolution) for Oktibbeha County, Choctaw County, and Winston County were merged to produce a continuous elevation grid for the study area. ArcGIS Spatial Analyst (ESRI 2005) was used to derive slope and aspect from the elevation grid. Each topographic grid was classified into categories in order to facilitate comparisons with species distribution data. The elevation grid was classified into four elevation classes using Jenks natural breaks (Jenks and Caspall 1971). These elevation classes were low (90–103.9 m), middle (104– 131 m), upper middle (131.1–157 m), and high (157.1–211 m). The slope grid was classified using Jenks natural breaks into three classes consisting of low slope (<2%), medium slope (2.1–6%), and steeper slope (6.1–31%). The majority (90%) of the values in the steeper slope class, however, were less than 15%. The aspect grid was manually classified into eight categories consisting of north (338.1–0.0° and 0.0–22.0°), northeast (22.1–67.0°), east (67.1–112.0°), southeast (112.1–157.0°), south (157.1–202.0°), southwest (202.1–247.0°), west (247.1°–292.0°), and northwest (292.1–338.0°). 252 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 Hawth’s analysis tools for ArcGIS (Beyer 2004) was used to intersect the species point files with the classified topographic grids. The attribute table from this intersection was imported into a statistical software package (SPSS), and a non-parametric chi-square analysis was used to test for independence of species abundance and the topographic variable classes. Lastly, cross-tabulation of the topographic variable classes and geological formation was used to investigate further the relationship of these two variables. A chi-square contingency table was not possible due to the low frequency of values within each category. Results Prehistoric and historic settlement patterns The archaeological site distribution data show clear temporal patterns (Fig. 2). Few pre-Woodland-period occupations (those with artifacts diagnostic of any part of the time span between ca. 12,000 and 800 B.C.) have been identified on the Ackerman Unit; those that have been recorded are mostly located along the major streams. In contrast, Woodland-period occupations (including sites with Gulf Formational period diagnostics—see Peacock 1997) dating from ca. 800 B.C. to A.D. 1050 are abundant and are found on all landforms (Blitz 1984, Parrish 2006, Peacock 1997). Unlike some other areas of the Eastern Woodlands (Scarry 1993), there is no Figure 2. Archaeological site distributions on the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest. Most Mississippian-period sites likely date no later than ca. A.D. 1000–1100. 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 253 evidence of Woodland-period plant domestication in the study area (Johannessen 1993); rather, a general hunting-gathering lifestyle was followed. The high numbers of Woodland-period sites may be related to the advent of sedentariness (permanent settlement) and consequent population growth, as sedentariness seems to have begun in the area during the first millennium B.C. (Rafferty 1980, 2002). There is a dramatic decrease in site numbers at about the beginning of the second millennium A.D., with the advent of what archaeologists call the Mississippian period. During this time, maize-based agriculture was widely adopted across much of eastern North America, including the study area (Peacock 2003). Although the entire span of the Mississippian period is used in Figure 2, artifactual and chronometric (radiocarbon) evidence gathered from surveys and excavations suggests that the area was abandoned early in the period, around A.D. 1000–1100 (Blitz 1984; Peacock 1997, 2003), and was not reoccupied until the early 19th century. Reasons for this early Mississippian abandonment of the hills are unknown at this time. There does not seem to have been a general depopulation event, as areas to the west (the Bluff Hills, the Mississippi Alluvial Valley) and to the east (the Black Prairie, the Tombigbee River Valley) show no signs of abandonment (Lipo and Dunnell, in press; Rafferty 2003, in press). Indeed, a recent compilation of radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dates shows a marked increase in occupation of the Black Prairie by ca. A.D. 1200 (cf. Johnson and Sparks 1986, Johnson et al. 1991, Rafferty and Peacock 2007). Work currently underway on the Ackerman Unit indicates that Mississippian period occupations are quite small and relatively ephemeral, with only a few artifacts diagnostic of the period being recovered from intensive shovel testing on close-interval grids across entire sites (Andrew Triplett, Tombigbee National Forest, Ackerman, MS, 2007; pers. comm.). This finding supports our contention that abandonment took place early in the period, before sufficient time had elapsed for substantial archaeological remains to accumulate. Early 19th-century sites (including a very few that show evidence of Historic- period aboriginal occupation, possibly Choctaw Indian homesteads) also are relatively rare, while many mid-19th- to early 20th-century sites have been recorded on the unit (Peacock and Patrick 1997). This archaeological assessment is borne out by records research, with very few improvements (the Robinson Road and a few fields) being shown on the early 19th-century GLO maps for the Ackerman Unit. Taken together, these settlement-pattern data present a very interesting picture where the reconstruction of forest cover is concerned. By the time of the GLO surveys in the early 1830s, the Ackerman Unit area had been essentially devoid of American Indian settlement for approximately seven to eight hundred years, and Historic-period resettlement of the area was still quite limited. The witness-tree data therefore should provide a good representation of what forest conditions in the North Central Hills were like in the absence of intensive human occupation. 254 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 Witness tree data Data were compiled for 866 witness trees on the Ackerman Unit. Common names, numbers, and proportions of the 37 species represented are given in Table 1. Common names are used, as different surveyors were involved and precise identification of some species from the notes is not always possible. Despite this limiting factor, a good characterization of forest cover is obtained. In general, the area supported oak-dominated hardwoods, with pine being common at slightly more than 17% of the total. Spatial pattern analysis. Red oak and black oak witness trees were significantly clustered within the Tombigbee National Forest Ackerman Unit study area, but all the other important species had a more-or-less random distribution (Table 2). Red oak was more clustered within the Wilcox geological formation of the Ackerman Unit, while Black oak was more clustered within the Porters Creek formation (Fig. 3). The point-distribution maps of pine and hickory across the Ackerman Unit (Fig. 4) suggest a slight preference for geological formation (Wilcox), but the nearest neighbor analysis did not show this trend to be significant. Both white oak and post oak had a random distribution across the study area (Fig. 5). The importance of geological formation to species distribution was examined further by calculating the Poisson probability distribution for each important taxon (Fig. 6). Red oak was twice as likely to occur within the Wilcox (45%) than in the Porters Creek (22%) formation. Black oak, on the other hand, was nearly four times more likely to occur in the Porters Creek (33%) than in the Wilcox formation (8.5%). Both results corroborate the results of the nearest neighbor analysis. As noted in the point distributions, Figure 3. Distribution (presence/ absence) of red oak and black oak witness trees from the General Land Office survey data on the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest. Red oak is more clustered in the Wilcox formation (white shading) and black oak is more clustered in the Porters Creek formation (gray shading). 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 255 both hickory and pine had higher probabilities of occurring in the Wilcox formation. Both white oak and post oak had similar probabilities of occurring on each geological formation. Species diversity across the study area. Because geological formation was determined to be an infl uential factor, comparisons between the Wilcox Figure 4: Distribution (presence/absence) of pine and hickory witness trees from the General Land Office survey data on the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest. Although both species are slightly more abundant in the Wilcox formation, nearest neighbor analysis indicates that their distribution across the two geological formations is random. Figure 5. Distribution (presence/absence) of white oak and post oak witness trees from the General Land Office survey data on the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest. Although white oaks are slightly more abundant on the Wilcox formation and the post oak are slightly more prevalent on the Porters Creek formation, nearest neighbor analysis indicates a random distribution of these species across the two geological formations. 256 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 Table 3. Species diversity on the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest compared between the Wilcox and Porters Creek geological formations. Diversity measure Porters Creek Wilcox Number of species 28 30 Total number of individuals (all spp.) 324 341 Shannon-Wiener diversity index -2.53 -2.42 Number GLO points 141 255 Figure 6. The Poisson probability of at least one witness tree from the General Land Office survey data occurring within the Wilcox and Porters Creek geological formations. Table 4. Absolute abundance of taxa of n > 5 divided between the Wilcox and Porters Creek formations. Species Porters Creek (# of individuals) Wilcox (# of individuals) Red oak 38 123 Black oak 60 19 Hickory 22 76 Pine 59 91 White oak 29 50 Post oak 43 64 Black gum 5 25 Chestnut 6 10 Holly 7 6 Spanish oak 5 11 Sweet gum 5 6 Poplar 7 9 Dogwood 2 9 Blackjack oak 4 13 Beech 6 5 Maple 6 2 Hornbeam 4 2 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 257 and Porters Creek formation were investigated in more detail (Tables 3–4, Fig. 7). It should be pointed out that the Wilcox represents a larger portion of the study area (64%) than the Porter Creek formation (46%). Both geological formations had similar number of taxa: 28 species occurred within the Porters Creek formation, and 30 species occurred within the Wilcox formation (Table 3). The Porters Creek formation had fewer numbers of individuals, but this was most likely related to the smaller area unit. Moreover, the Porters Creek had a slightly higher Shannon-Wiener index value. Because this diversity index is heavily weighted by evenness of individuals, the large number of red oaks in the Wilcox formation (123 individuals; Table 4) may have created an uneven situation that defl ated the index value for this area. Regarding the abundance of important taxa (those for which n > 5), 76% of all red oaks occurred within the Wilcox formation (Table 4). The Wilcox also had higher numbers of hickory, Quercus marilandica Muencch. (blackjack oak), Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. (black gum), Cornus fl orida L. (dogwood), and Quercus falcata Michaux. (Spanish oak; Fig. 7). In contrast, 76% percent of all black oaks occurred within the Porters Creek formation. The Porters Creek formation also had slightly higher numbers of pine and Figure 7. Relative abundance of the most frequent witness tree species represented in the General Land Office survey data from the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest. Relative abundance data are plotted for both the Wilcox and Porters Creek geological formations. 258 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 post oak. The remaining species were either evenly distributed across the two formations or had such low occurrence values that meaningful comparisons could not be made (Table 4, Fig. 7). Several species were found only in the Wilcox formation, and these included Prunus persica (L.) Batsch. (peach), Magnolia acuminata L. (cucumber tree), Oxydendrum arboreum (L.) DC (sourwood), Chrysopsis lanuginosa Small (lynn), Persea sp. (bay), Ulmus rubra Muhl. (slippery elm), and Magnolia sp. (magnolia). The species that were found only in the Porters Creek formation included Quercus bicolor Willd. (swamp oak), Platanus occidentalis L. (sycamore), Morus rubra L. (mulberry), Quercus phellos L. (willow oak), Nyssa sp. (gum), and Salix nigra Marsh. (willow). Swamp oak, willow oak, gum, and willow are more hydric species (USFS 2007a, 2007b), and their presence only within the clay-rich and more acidic soils of the Porter Creek formation further illustrates the geological infl uence on the vegetation. Species distribution and topographic variability. Slope, elevation, and aspect showed a complex relationship to species distribution (Tables 5–7). It should be pointed out that there was not much topographic variability within the study area. Slope value ranges from 0% to 31%; however, the vast majority of values (over 90%) had a slope less than 15%. Similarly, elevation only ranged from 90 m to 211 m. Black oak and pine showed a significant preference for the middle slope (Table 5). Post oaks, however, showed a preference for low and middle slope values. This result was somewhat counterintuitive because post oaks are described as being more prevalent on dry ridges (Chester et al. 1987). Red oak, hickory, and white oak showed no significant preference for slope Table 5. Results of chi square analysis for slope classes among the six most abundant witness tree species. Note: results are for observed frequency of witness-tree species; * = significant at p < 0.05; ns = not significant. Species Slope class Red oak Black oak Hickory Pine Post oak White oak 1 (<2%) 42 13 28 29 34 23 2 (2.1–6%) 32 36 22 57 34 22 3 (7.1–31%) 41 8 28 31 17 23 Significance 0.45 ns 0.00* 0.02* 0.63 ns 0.03* 0.48 ns Table 6. Results of chi-square analysis for elevation classes among each of the six most common witness-tree species. Note: results are for observed frequency of witness-tree species; * = significant at p < 0.05; ns = not significant. Species Elevation class Red oak Black oak Hickory Pine Post oak White oak Low (90–104 m) 11 5 6 11 11 11 Middle (104.1–131 m) 41 24 28 29 27 25 Upper middle (131.1–157 m) 39 20 23 51 23 25 High (157.1–211 m) 24 8 21 26 24 7 Significance 0.00* 0.00* 0.00* 0.003* 0.07 ns 0.01* 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 259 class. The results of the cross-tabulation of slope and geological formation indicate that red oaks were more abundant on higher slope classes within the Wilcox formation and were more abundant on lower slope classes within the Porters Creek formation (Table 8). The interaction between slope and geological formation was not as clear for the other important taxa. With the exception of post oak, all important taxa showed a significant preference for elevation class (Table 6). Red oak, black oak, hickory, and white oak were more abundant in the middle elevation class while pine was more abundant in the upper middle elevation class. The cross-tabulation of elevation class and geological formation indicated that none of the important taxa occurred within the lowest elevations of the Wilcox formation (Table 9). Table 7. Results of chi-square analysis for aspect classes among each of the six most common witness-tree species. Note * = significant at P < 0.05; ns = not significant. Aspect Red oak Black oak Hickory Pine White oak Post oak North 16 8 10 13 9 13 Northeast 14 7 11 14 11 9 East 23 3 13 21 13 20 Southeast 9 7 4 11 7 10 South 15 7 6 15 7 5 Southwest 18 6 10 20 5 9 West 6 6 12 10 8 6 Northwest 14 13 12 13 8 13 Significance 0.07 ns 0.36 ns 0.42 ns 0.378 ns 0.64 ns 0.04* Table 8. Cross-tabulation of slope class with geological formation. W = Wilcox and PC = Porters Creek. Steeper Low slope (<2%) Medium slope (2.1%–6%) slope (6.1%–31%) W PC W PC W PC Red oak 26 16 27 5 36 5 Black oak 4 9 9 27 1 7 Hickory 19 9 18 4 25 5 Pine 13 16 29 28 26 5 White oak 11 12 12 10 20 3 Post oak 20 14 18 16 13 4 Table 9. Cross-tabulation of elevation class with geological formation. W = Wilcox and PC = Porters Creek. Low elevation Middle elevation Upper Middle elevation High elevation (90–104 m) (104.1–131 m) (131.1–157 m) (157.1–211 m) W PC W PC W PC W PC Red oak 0 11 27 14 38 1 24 0 Black oak 0 5 5 19 4 16 5 3 Hickory 0 6 18 10 21 2 21 0 Pine 0 11 11 18 35 16 22 4 White oak 0 11 13 12 23 2 7 0 Post oak 0 11 12 15 16 7 23 1 260 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 In contrast, only a few individuals were present within the upper elevation of the Porters Creek. It is not clear at this time if the absence of species within the lower Wilcox or upper Porters Creek is an artifact of the GLO sampling frame. Aspect was the least important topographic variable, and only post oak had a significant result (Table 7). Post oak appears to prefer the eastern and northern aspects within the study area. Discussion Accounts of 18th- and 19th-century landscape conditions in north-central Mississippi range from traveler’s accounts and other historical records (e.g., Nutt 1805) to broad-scale, scientific descriptions (Hilgard 1860). Interpreting the former is something of an art form, but previous studies have indicated that such historic descriptions are, in fact, reasonably accurate (e.g., Brewer 2001, Peacock 1992a, Peacock and Miller 1990). Hilgard’s (1860:301) description of the hill country of northern Winston County as “characterized by a growth of White, Black and Red Oak, stout Post Oak, a good deal of Hickory, and sometimes Short-leaf Pine” is in general accord with the GLO data from the Ackerman Unit. Historical records, including GLO notes, may be interpreted in different ways, however (e.g., Johnson 1990, Peacock 1992a, Peacock and Miller 1990). For example, Johnson (1988:59) suggested that “the acidic sands of the North Central Hills were covered primarily in pine.” This statement contrasts with the findings of the current study and with an earlier study of GLO notes and a botanical survey of old growth forests in the North Central Hills by Brewer (2001). Brewer compiled witness-tree data from two townships in Lafayette County and found a hardwood-dominated early 19th-century forest, with blackjack oak, black oak, and post oak being especially common; red oak also was common, although it varied in abundance spatially (Brewer 2001). His results differ from ours mainly in the higher proportion of blackjack oak reported; such variability within the province (see also Hilgard 1860:300–301) is worthy of further study. The results of the nearest neighbor analysis, the point-distribution maps, and the Poisson probability distributions clearly show that red oak and black oak distribution patterns within the Ackerman Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest correspond with geological formation. Black oaks prefer rich, moist, acidic, and well-drained soils. The Porters Creek formation may be more suited to black oak because it is very clay-rich and acidic, especially where the North Central Hills transition to the Flatwoods along the eastern margin of the Unit. Red oaks, in contrast, tolerate a wide range of soil types, but generally prefer loam, silt, sandy loam, and sandy soil textures. The preference of red oak for the coarser soil textures may explain its higher abundance on the Wilcox formation. The distinction between the Wilcox and Porters Creek formations were also apparent within the pine and hickory data; however, this separation was not nearly 2008 E. Peacock, J. Rodgers, K. Bruce, and J. Gray 261 as sharp as with the red and black oaks. The other taxa did not show a clear preference for a particular geological formation. Topographic variables appear to have had some infl uence on vegetation patterns. Several species showed preference for slope and/or elevation type, yet it is difficult to draw clear interpretations of this data. The multiple significances with elevation, for example, are somewhat counterintuitive as the slight elevation differences on the Unit should not pose any limitation to species distributions. Similarly, slope class in relation to species distribution was somewhat opaque. The preference of red oak for lower slopes in the Porters Creek and steeper slopes in the Wilcox formations was the only meaningful result. However the ecological significance of this is difficult to determine because the lower slope and steeper slope classes only differed by 10 individuals. Thus, the topographic infl uence does not seem to be as instrumental in shaping the distribution patterns of the important taxa within the study area. The main conclusion borne out of the GLO data is that geological formation had primary infl uence on vegetation patterns. Conclusions Based on the GLO notes, the Ackerman Unit area in the early 19th century can be characterized as one of mixed hardwoods with a generally distributed pine component. Based on archaeological data, this represents a picture of conditions as they existed in the near-absence of human settlement over a period of many centuries (cf. Brewer 2001). This is not to say that human actions did not alter the forest; in particular, the role of burning by Indians in this sparsely settled region following the Woodland period is not known at present, and provides an interesting avenue for future research (cf. Vale 2002). Brewer (2001), for example, has argued that the “presettlement” forests of the North Central Hills in Lafayette County, north Mississippi, were more open than the few remaining old-growth forests of today, something he attributes to modern fire suppression. He points out that his study area was located some 70 km west of the major area of Chickasaw Indian settlement in the Black Prairie physiographic province (Johnson 2000), and that there are records of the Chickasaw burning the landscape (Nairne 1988). A similar concentration of Protohistoric to early Historic-period aboriginal sites exists in the vicinity of Starkville, approximately 24 km northeast of the Ackerman Unit (Atkinson 1979, Rafferty 2003). Thus, while there is little evidence for actual occupation of the study area between ca. A.D. 1000 and the early 19th century, the landscape may have been manipulated in ways that bear further investigation. At this point, however, it can be argued that the GLO data for the Ackerman Unit represent as accurate a picture of undisturbed woodland as is obtainable in the region. The witness-tree data therefore represent one set of historically defensible baseline conditions for forest restoration. An equivalent amount of archaeological survey has been carried out by the senior author on other lands in north-central Mississippi, including the Trace Unit of the Tombigbee National Forest and the Holly Springs 262 Southeastern Naturalist Vol.7, No. 2 and Yalobusha Units of the Holly Springs National Forest (e.g., Peacock 1992b, 1992c, 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1993d, 1995b). The archaeological settlement patterns in those areas are similar to what has been described for the Ackerman Unit, with a relative lack of settlement prior to the Woodland period, intensive settlement during the Woodland, and a dramatic decrease in sites at the beginning of the Mississippian period (Peacock 1997). These findings are mirrored in other studies (Ford 1980, 1981, 1989, 1990; Johnson 1984, 1988). For example, Johnson (1988) compiled data from a number of surveys and excavation projects in north Mississippi. Although only limited data from the North Central Hills were available at that time, no Mississippian sites are represented from that province in his study. Morgan (1996) compiled data on diagnostic artifacts using site files at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. His research universe was composed of 40 counties making up approximately one-third of the state, from north- and east-central Mississippi west to the Mississippi River and essentially encompassing the North Central Hills. One class of site he looked for was “all sites falling within a twelfth- through seventeenth-century [A.D.] timeframe, including Mississippi, Plaquemine, and Protohistoric cultural manifestations” (Morgan 1996:2). His findings led him to state that, “at least one fact is obvious: that occupation in the central portion of the state [i.e., the North Central Hills] is virtually nonexistent throughout the period,” and that “present evidence is probably ample for documenting that this was an area of meager aboriginal occupation” (Morgan 1996:5). Also similar to the Ackerman Unit, Historic-period settlement in the uplands of north-central Mississippi was limited before the mid-19th century (e.g., Peacock 1992a, 1992b, 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1993d, 1995b). Based on this information, we would argue that GLO data can provide an accurate baseline for minimally disturbed forest conditions throughout the hill belts of interior Mississippi. It is questionable whether forest management practices can be structured so as to reconstruct those baseline conditions, as there has been enormous soil loss in the North Central Hills and other upland provinces in Mississippi since the mid-19th century (Grissenger et al. 1982). It could be argued that a range of target ecological conditions should be the goal of a balanced resource management program, if maintaining biodiversity is the key goal (Minnis and Elisens 2000, Peacock 1998). Whatever path is chosen, the archaeological settlement pattern and GLO data combine to provide an accurate picture of what mature tree cover in the hills of Mississippi was like in the absence of significant human settlement. This work adds to a growing number of studies that explore the implications of historic forest conditions for resource management in the state (e.g., Aquilani 2006, Brewer et al. 2000). 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