Smokies Need Help Preserving Biodiversity

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– The Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone cannot ensure preservation of the region’s biological diversity, the director of North Carolina’s Botanical Gardens says in a University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory journal.

Peter S. White says the Smokies contain a majority of the region’s common plant and animal species, but lack many of the region’s more rare and endangered species.

Mountain bogs and Carolina hemlock forests, habitats unique to the Southern Appalachians, are not found in the Smokies, White says in Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy.

“If the park contained 100 percent of the region’s species, we might be able to guarantee the survival of biological diversity,” White said. “The conservation of biological diversity cannot depend on a single national park. It requires a dispersed network of sites across the region.”

Farming, logging, grazing, and hunting that once took place on what is now park land continue to affect species, White says. Humans have changed natural processes by changing river flows, draining wetlands, controlling forest fires, harvesting park plants and introducing exotic species, he says.

A regional management strategy combining government, academic and conservation groups can help reduce the impact of these threats more effectively than a single national park, he says.

“We have already witnessed a reduction of plant and animal species,” White says. “Threats to wildlife will continue unless we establish a regional conservation strategy and a network of protected sites. A single national park is not enough.”

White is an associate professor of biology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Contact: Dr. Peter White (919-962-0522)

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