GSMNP Species Inventories    Robert Leverett
   Apr 14, 2003 15:05 PDT 

    The following is an excerpt from a report put out by the GSMNP. First the report and then comments.


INVENTORY AND MONITORING - Keith Langdon, Branch Chief (865-436-1705)

EXTREME DIS-JUNCTS..AND NEW SPECIES, TOO: We have just received the final report for some lichen work. Dr. Tor Tonsberg, lichenologist at the University of Bergen in Norway, spent 10 days in the Smokies last summer with support from Discover Life in America, and his university. Tonsberg is an authority on temperate and boreal lichens, especially the crustose species. Lichens are both an alga and fungi that combine by providing water and/or nutrients to each other. They dominate large areas of the Polar Regions.

Tonsberg found 41 species that were previously unrecorded in the Park, including 10 genera (groups of closely related species) not previously recorded. Of these 41, eight are new to science! Additionally there were several extreme range expansions. Catillaria croatica were only previously from a single site in the Balkans. There were also a group of species he found that were located only at high elevations in the Park. Three of these were previously known only from the wet, lowlands of the Pacific Northwest; and another species was known only from the Pacific Northwest and the island of Newfoundland. These extreme dis-junctions of thousands of miles in distribution are sometimes evidence of very different past climatic conditions when species had radically different ranges.

Tonsberg also found more species in the genus Leparia than he has seen anywhere else in the world - four of the species new to science were in this genus and he believes there are additional undescribed taxa. Leparia are called the Dust Lichens, because it is impossible to wet them with liquid water due the surface tension caused by dust like particles on the surface. They grow in the wettest environments.

He did not get to the extensive high elevation areas in the eastern part of the Smokies, due to its remoteness, but overall, not bad for 10 days work! We consider the rapid discovery of so many species in such a short period of time, as further evidence of how little we know of the natural areas in this country.


    The degree to which the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a botanical paradise and haven for invertabrates has been only partially recognized in the past. The job of identifying all the plants growing in the Smokies is beyond what a few dedicated humans could do in years past. They certainly got the ball rolling, but even Arthur Stupka would be amazed at how much there is. At present, scientists have identified over 1,500 flowering plants and over 4,000 non-flowering plants. The Park includes over 450 bryophytes. Animals include 66 species of mammals, 50 species of fish, and 80 species of reptiles and amphibians. In terms of birds, Park literature says:

"From the high, exposed peaks, to the warmer, sheltered lowlands, some 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration."

    A conclusion reaached by Park scientists and outside research, which may well be no exaggeration is: "No other area of equal size in a temperate climate can match the park's amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates."

    The ENTS big tree-tall tree reports place the Smokies at the pinnacle of the tall tree sites in the Eastern United States and with luck, next week will produce an extra surprise or two. We have our sites set on sycamore, white pine, basswood, cucumber magnolia, white ash, and tulip tree for new records even if from the same trees.

    What are we to think about this explosion in taxa? Well, the first thing that pops into my mind is the foresighted individuals who saw the Smokies in the 1920s and early 1930s for what they are. I am humbled thinking about the uphill battle they faced in convincing the nation of the value of the Smokies. It causes me to really worry about places like Zoar Valley that are still at risk and realize how easy it would be to lose what remains of our natural heritage.

    It is easy to undervalue what is familiar to use, what is under our noses, or what hasn't been proclaimed special within a hiearchical structure that often disdains "meddling citizens" overly concerned about nature. Thankfully the NPS has not fallen prey to narrow thinking, so we will be free to continue our species documentations over the next several years. Our NPS is the model for the rest of the world and of that we can be justly proud.

    I wonder how broad the distribution of plants and animals is that call Zoar Valley home? What can we learn about species adaptability from the terrace forests that don't seem to realize that they are setting records? Lots to think about.

GSMNP Species Update, May 2003    
   May 06, 2003 20:01 PDT 

    Here is an update on the Smokies.

INVENTORY AND MONITORING - Keith Langdon, Branch Chief (865-436-1705)

ATBI BREAKS 3,000 SPECIES DISCOVERIES: Park entomologist Dr. Becky Nichols coordinates the volunteer ATBI scientists, including tracking the discoveries that they make. Every couple of months she tallies up reports from the couple hundred researchers who are actively involved in fieldwork. Last week she did a tally and the list of new discoveries for the Smokies is 3,106 species!

This total falls into two kinds of discoveries, 2,732 are New Records for the Park, that is, they were described species that were never found here before, and 374 that are New to Science. This last category is where a taxonomic authority believes the specimen represents a scientifically undescribed species, never seen before. We often refer to these as a "new species," and most of these are invertebrates.

This number does not include the many new locations that have been documented for species already known here. Discovering which habitats a species is associated with is a prime goal of the ATBI. Park managers need to know what resources occur in the Park, but also an idea as to where they occur, how rare they are, and the ecological functions they perform. Park biologists, USGS scientists and the many cooperating scientists are testing efficient methods to answer as much as practical about these four questions.for each species in the Park.

You don't have to explore the Amazon to discover a species new to science. Out of the new discoveries for the Park over 12% are new species. The Smokies are an unusual and complex natural area, but probably every natural area of any size in the US has at least a few species that are undescribed to science.. and undiscovered. Many of them will be rare species in need of special protection, or scientifically important, perhaps a few will have bio-medical uses, or just be fascinating in their own right.

We think we are still a long way from completing the ATBI, but there is no way to be sure since no other project of this scale precedes us. Scientific estimates of the number of species on Earth vary from 3 million to 100 to 200 million. This says a lot about society's state of knowledge about natural biodiversity. And, why we must complete the Smokies ATBI as a first step not only to fully protect the Park's resources but for global understanding as well. We appreciate the funding from the Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and the many researcher and citizen volunteers that have made our collective efforts possible thus far.
Tree Canopy Biodiversity Highlights in GSMNP   Gary Beluzo
  Jan 05, 2004 08:21 PST 

Greetings ENTS!

I was looking through my intersemester mail today and enjoyed spied a short
summary on “Tree Canopy Biodiversity in the GSMNP” in the latest ATBI
Quarterly. For more information you may want to check out HYPERLINK
"", there is a
good overview of the myxomycetes project in the GSMNP as part of the All
Taxa Biodiversity Inventory.