We compared breeding bird communities and vegetation characteristics at paired point locations in primary (undisturbed) and mature secondary forest (70-100 years old) sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA to understand how sites logged prior to creation of the park compare to undisturbed sites following 70 years of protection from human disturbance. We found that bird and vegetation communities are currently similar, but retain some differences in species composition. Rank abundance curves for primary and secondary forest bird communities showed very similar patterns of species dominance. Species composition was also similar on the two sites which shared 24 of the 25 most frequently recorded species. Nonetheless, comparisons of density estimates derived from distance sampling showed three bird species were more abundant on primary forest sites and that one bird species was significantly more abundant on secondary forest sites. Notably, comparisons based on raw counts (unadjusted for potential differences in detectability) produced somewhat different results. Analyses of vegetation samples for the paired sites also showed relative similarity, but with some differences between primary and secondary forests. Primary forest sites had more large trees (trees greater than 50 cm diameter at breast height) and late successional species. Primary forest sites had a denser tall shrub layer while secondary forest sites had a denser canopy layer. Nonetheless, tree species richness, basal area of live trees and number of standing snags did not differ between primary and secondary forest sites. Results indicate that breeding bird communities on sites within the park that were logged commercially 70 years ago are currently quite similar to bird communities on sites with no history of human disturbance. Similarities between the bird communities on previously disturbed and undisturbed sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park may exceed those on more fragmented landscapes because large patches of primary forest, adjacent to commercially logged sites, remained in the park when it was established in 1935. These patches of primary forest may have served as source areas for commercially logged sites.
Additional publication details
Comparison of breeding bird and vegetation communities in primary and secondary forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park