Biology Ph.D. Dissertations


A Multiscale Spatial Analysis of Oak Openings Plant Diversity with Implications for Conservation and Management

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Karen V. Root, PhD

Second Advisor

Enrique Gomezdelcampo, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Helen J. Michaels, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jeffery G. Miner, PhD (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Robert K. Vincent, PhD (Committee Member)


Oak savannas of the Midwestern U.S. are among the most imperiled North American plant communities. The 478-km2 Oak Openings region of Northwestern Ohio is one of the few landscape-scale savanna systems remaining in the Midwest. Despite conversion of large portions of the Oak Openings for human land uses, the region still supports high levels of floristic diversity. However, regional patterns of Oak Openings plant diversity within the modern landscape are not well understood. My research objectives were 1) to determine the current extent and distribution of Oak Openings plant communities, 2) to quantify multiscale patterns of plant species richness within the context of the surrounding landscape, and 3) to build predictive species distribution models of rare plants to evaluate regional patterns in habitat suitability. First, using multi-seasonal Landsat images, I determined that <3% of the Oak Openings remains covered by native savannas, prairies, and barrens, while three-fourths of the region has been converted for urban, residential, and agricultural uses. Second, using measures of spatial heterogeneity derived from field data and remote sensing, I developed models of native and exotic plant species richness at two spatial extents and at four ecological levels for the Oak Openings. These models consistently explained more variation in exotic richness (better explained at the larger spatial extent) than in native richness (better explained at the smaller spatial extent). At all ecological levels, percentage of human-modified land cover in the surrounding landscape (negatively correlated with native richness, positively correlated with exotic richness) was a strong predictor of species richness. Finally, I developed species distribution models for nine rare plant species within the Oak Openings region using the Maxent modeling algorithm. Proportional land cover surrounding species occurrences accounted for a large proportion of the predictive power of all models. As percentage of human development increased in the surrounding landscape, the relative habitat suitability for modeled species decreased. From these collective results, I conclude that human-caused disturbances exert a strong influence on Oak Openings species richness patterns. It is therefore important for resource managers to consider landscape context when implementing conservation actions for the Oak Openings region.