Ecotonal change in high-elevation forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, 1930s-2004
Tuttle, Julie Paige
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Recent theory asserts that montane vegetation ecotones may be good locations for observing change because of their association with steep environmental and climatic gradients. In 2004, I sampled the Great Smoky Mountains spruce-fir ecotone for comparison to Frank Miller’s 1930s data to examine changes in ecotonal forest composition and structure. Changes in stand attributes as well as shifts in dominant and subdominant species reflect primarily the decimation of Abies fraseri by the balsam woolly adelgid and high mortality of Fagus grandifolia from beech bark disease. Based on the results of this study, the abundance and distribution of Picea rubens seem preserved in the ecotone, pending future recruitment success. Abies fraseri persists in a diminished state at the highest elevations. It is unknown whether Betula lutea will persist in dominating former A. fraseri forests, particularly on north-facing slopes.