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Harvard Forest Data Archive
Witness Tree Data in Southern New England and Long Island 1640-1999Related Publications
- hf087-01: tabular data (preview)
- hf087-02: zip file contains an ArcView point shapefile for colonial witness trees (GIS)
- Lead: Brian Hall, Glenn Motzkin, John Burk
- Investigators: Matthias Burgi, Charles Cogbill, Erin Largay
- Contact: Information Manager
- Start date: 1640
- End date: 1999
- Status: completed
- Location: Southern New England, Long Island NY
- Latitude: +40.5 to +42.9
- Longitude: -73.8 to -69.9
- Release date: 2003
- EML file: knb-lter-hfr.87.19
- DOI: digital object identifier
- EDI: data package
- DataONE: data package
- Related links:
- Massachusetts Growing Degree Day and Precipitation Maps
- Massachusetts Historical Landcover and Census Data 1640-1999
- Study type: historical
- Research topic: historical and retrospective studies; regional studies
- LTER core area: disturbance
- Keywords: geographic information systems, history, land use, landscape, vegetation dynamics
Early surveyors' witness-tree records from initial land divisions are often used to reconstruct the vegetation at the time of European settlement and before extensive Euro-American land use. The following description of methods comes from the published paper (Hall, B., G .Motzkin, D. R. Foster, M. Syfert and J. Burk. 2002. Three hundred years of forest and land-use change in Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Biogeography 29, 1319-1335):
"Following methods described more fully in Cogbill et al. (2002), we used early surveyors' tree records from initial land divisions in each town to reconstruct the vegetation at the time of European settlement and before extensive Euro-American land use. All available original 17th - early 19th century survey records located at the state archives and individual town halls were examined and colloquial or common names of marker trees were noted... With few exceptions, only surveys that occurred within 80 years of town settlement were gathered in order to limit the potential influence of European land use on species composition."
The data file contains information collected from town offices, state archives, and state libraries. Witness trees are listed using 17th-19th century colloquial names. Note that towns with more than one type of data (see below) may have more than one row of data.
Data are provided as an ArcView point shapefile (town centroids) in latitude/longitude, NAD 1927 datum. The values in the table are the percent of total trees for each taxa (number of individuals in a taxa divided by the total number of trees).
Code = Definition. Town = town name. N_trees = number of witness trees. Acer = % maples. Betula = % birches. Carya = % hickories. Casden = % chestnut (Castanea dentata). Cedar = % trees listed as “cedar”. Faggra = % beech (Fagus grandifolia). Fraxinus = % ash. Jugcin = % butternut (Juglans cinerea). Larlar = % tamarack (Larix laricina). Nyssly = % black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). Pinus = % pine. Populus = % poplar. Prunus = % cherry. Quercus = % oak. Sasalb = % sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Tilame = % basswood (Tilia americana). Tsucan = % hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Ulmus = % elm. Other = % others. Picea = % spruce.
This dataset is released to the public under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (No Rights Reserved). Please keep the dataset creators informed of any plans to use the dataset. Consultation with the original investigators is strongly encouraged. Publications and data products that make use of the dataset should include proper acknowledgement.
Hall B, Motzkin G, Burk J. 2003. Witness Tree Data in Southern New England and Long Island 1640-1999. Harvard Forest Data Archive: HF087 (v.19). Environmental Data Initiative: https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/e6864f4c1cf00abe835413a6c42f8fbd.
hf087-01: tabular data
- state: state
- town: town
- location.county: county or other description of location
- lat: latitude of the town’s centroid (geographic projection, NAD27) (unit: degree / missing value: NA)
- long: longitude of the town’s centroid (geographic projection, NAD27) (unit: degree / missing value: NA)
- source: location of the data source
- type: type of survey record. It has been shown that different types of surveys may have different proportions of species (see: Burgi, M., Russell, E.W.B., 2000. Evaluating accuracy of two types of early land survey records in the northeastern Unites States. Jounal of the Torrey Botanical Society 127, 94-98).
- dates: dates of the data recorded
- surveyor: name of surveyor, only recorded for a few towns
- settlement: approximate year of European-American settlement
- notes: any relevant notes
- ntrees: total number of individual trees recorded (unit: number / missing value: NA)
- tree: tree species
- count: number recorded (unit: number / missing value: NA)
hf087-02: zip file contains an ArcView point shapefile for colonial witness trees (GIS)
- Compression: zip
- Format: Esri shapefile
- Type: vector GIS