Use of Soil Properties to Determine the Historical Extent of Two Western Washington Prairies

The Pacific Northwest, a region known for mesic coniferous forests, is also home to scattered prairies, which have been maintained by a combination of xeric site conditions and anthropogenic fires. These prairies, which existed for thousands of years, have been reduced to 2–4% of their historical extent over the past two centuries due to urban development, agriculture, and forest encroachment. We used soil properties, including organic matter concentration, black carbon concentration, proportion of large black carbon particles and moist color, to determine the historical location of prairie-forest ecotones at Mima Mounds and American Camp prairies. Based on these parameters, we conclude that Mima prairie historically extended 50 m north and 300 m east of the current ecotone. In contrast, at American Camp all sampled areas that are currently forested appear to have been grassland at some time in the past. Soils can provide an effective means of determining historical prairie boundaries.


For more articles from the Spring 2011 issue of Northwest Science please refer to the link below:

The Future of Restoration and Management of Prairie-Oak Ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest