NPS partner researchers monitor high elevation beech gaps in Spruce-Fir forests such as this one along the Appalachian Trail near Icewater Spring Shelter.
Beech scale and Beech gap studies
Ashley Morris, a geneticist who completed her doctoral study in beech gap genetics in the Park, found one in ten of her study sites consisted of beech clones. While this is one way beech normally reproduce, it means that “the root sprouts, which are genetically identical to parents killed by the disease, will also be impacted by the disease as they mature. Foresters think that natural resistance to the disease is low.
In New England, studies by David Houston during the 1980s revealed 1 percent resistance to beech bark disease. No treatment for the disease is known. Some of the Park’s monitoring plots have individual mature beech still in healthy condition above a thick understory of beech sprouts. Houston reported that in New England remaining overstory beech that survived a wave of beech bark disease were resistant to the scale. Whether this becomes the case in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the subject of future monitoring and research.
- Monitoring beech over time
Ten monitoring plots were established in 1994. Scientists return to them every other year to see how many trees survive, to measure the density of the scales on the trees and check for Nectria fungus, and finally to assess tree health by noting dying branches, leaf loss, and growth of shrubs that crowd out the beech.
Scientists are still analyzing data from the 2008 season. Past monitoring has shown high mortality rates of mature beech in the monitoring plots, and dense blackberry growth in the new sunny areas. Foresters have also seen beech root sprout reproduction around dead “parent” trees, which means that young beech are returning.