Community Composition in Canopy Gaps as Influenced by Presence or Absence of Rhododendron maximum
The process of gap formation and recolonization plays an important role in the structure and composition in southern Appalachian forests. The understory composition existing before a disturbance will shape successional patterns of the future stand. Rhododendron maximum is native to the southern Appalachians and exists as a major understory component in cove forests. Its frequency of occurrence has been increasing over the past century due to the demise of the American Chestnut, heavy logging at the turn of the century, and suppression of fire. Increasing densities of R. maximum reduced species richness and coverage in the regeneration layer and reduced recruitment into understory and midstory strata. Woody and herbaceous species regenerated poorly, if at all. under R. maximum's dense canopy. Only shade-tolerant woody species like Tsuga canadensis. and Acer rubrum regenerate in R. maximum thickets, and their densities are markedly decreased.