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Eastern US forests resume decline

New research finds 4.1 percent loss over 3 decades

After increasing during much of the 20th century, forest cover in the eastern United States in recent decades has resumed its previous decline, according to an exhaustive new analysis published in the April 2010 issue of BioScience. The work is described in an article by Mark A. Drummond and Thomas R. Loveland of the US Geological Survey (USGS).

During the 19th century and earlier, forests were cleared for agriculture on a large scale, but from around 1920 onward, the eastern United States experienced a net increase in forest cover as fields were abandoned and trees regrew. Experts have been uncertain whether this trend has continued. Drummond and Loveland examined changes in the eastern part of the country from 1973 to 2000 as part of the USGS's Land Cover Trends project, using remotely sensed imagery as well as statistical data, field notes, and ground photographs. Over this time they found a 4.1 percent decline in total forest area, a "substantial and sustained net loss" equivalent to more than 3.7 million hectares. The researchers describe considerable regional variation, with net loss being particularly marked in the southeastern plains.

The net loss occurred even though reforestation of abandoned fields and pastures continues, in some regions more than others. Most net forest loss occurs as result of mechanical disturbance of forests for timber production, which keeps some land free of forest, and as a result of urban expansion, which is generally a permanent change. Mountaintop removal for mining in the Appalachian highlands has also had a "substantial impact" on eastern land cover, contributing more than 420,000 hectares of net forest decline. The authors comment that their findings suggest forest transitions may not plateau and stabilize after reaching a point of maximum recovery, which "has important implications for sustainability, future carbon sequestration, and biodiversity."

After noon EST on 7 April and for the remainder of the month, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this Press Release available at

BioScience, published 11 times per year, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the April 2010 issue of BioScience is as follows:

The Functional Genomics of Inbreeding Depression: A New Approach to an Old Problem by Ken N. Paige

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells: The Dragon Awakens by Weidong Han, Yali Zhao, and Xiaobing Fu

Land-use Pressure and a Transition to Forest-cover Loss in the Eastern United States by Mark A. Drummond and Thomas R. Loveland

Livestock Protection Dogs in the 21st Century: Is an Ancient Tool Relevant to Modern Conservation Challenges? by Thomas M. Gehring, Kurt C. VerCauteren, and Jean-Marc Landry

Forest History in East Africa's Eastern Arc Mountains: Biological Science and the Uses of History by Christopher A. Conte

Timothy Beardsley | EurekAlert!
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Further reports about: AIBS BioScience Biological Science Inbreeding Depression Loveland Science TV

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