Forests of the Cumberland Plateau physiographic province have undergone significant change over the past century due to anthropogenic disturbances, and the magnitude and direction of this change will have important consequences for forest management and biodiversity conservation. Cove and upland forest communities on the Cumberland Plateau are in close proximity to one another, but have maintained distinct composition due to soil differences. Several anthropogenic influences common to other southern Appalachian forest communities, including fire suppression, predator removal, and introduction of pathogens, continue to drive change in these forests but remain relatively undocumented. In this 10-year study of these two major forest types, those disturbances were expected to homogenize cove and upland forests, with compositions increasingly dominated by generalist species, similar to trends elsewhere. Composition and structure were considerably altered in both communities over the course of this study, but non-metric multidimensional scaling showed that the cove and uplands remained distinct. Both communities were experiencing a steady replacement of Quercus species by Acer species, but A. saccharum and A. rubrum dominance were limited to the cove and uplands respectively. A. saccharum expansion in the coves is in contrast to trends reported in other studies of Appalachian forests. Replacement of Quercus species by Acer species was more advanced in the high-productivity cove forest; however, the trajectory of change was more consistent among upland forest plots. Documenting long-term status and trends in these forested communities will be critical for managing disturbance regimes and predicting consequences for regional biodiversity.
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Vol. 135 • No. 2