Get access

Recent Juniperus occidentalis (Western Juniper) expansion on a protected site in central Oregon


Paul Knapp, fax +1/ 404-651-3235,


The expansion of Juniperus occidentalis (western juniper) has been extensive in the last century, and increases in density and cover have been linked with the indirect effects of domestic livestock grazing (i.e. cessation of periodic fires, increases of nurse-plant sites), and more favourable climatic conditions. In this study, we document changes in vegetation (including J. occidentalis) in central Oregon over a 23-year period and relate these changes to their probable causes. In June 1995 we returned to the Horse Ridge Research Natural Area (HRRNA), a site that has a history of minimal anthropogenic impacts, to replicate a 1972 vegetation survey. Using the canopy-intercept method, line intercept method, and aerial photography analysis to measure herbaceous cover, shrub cover and tree cover, respectively, we found significant changes had occurred in the 23-year period between studies. Relative changes of tree, shrub, and perennial herbaceous cover were 59%, 7%, and – 38%, respectively. Relative increases in J. occidentalis density, as measured by the number of clumps and the number of stems, were 37% and 53%, respectively. Mean maximum height of J. occidentalis had increased by 10%. We examined the role of potentially confounding influences (e.g. fire, grazing, pathogens, climatic variability) and found that none of the traditional mechanisms implicated in J. occidentalis expansion adequately explained the observed changes. We suggest that the role of biological inertia of both anthropogenic and natural means may have had a profound effect on the J. occidentalis ecology of HRRNA.