Terrain and landform influence on Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carriere (Eastern Hemlock) distribution in the southern Appalachian Mountains
We examined the relationships between hemlock distribution and abundance and terrain attributes for the Coweeta Basin in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Field measurements were combined with GIS mapping methods to develop predictive models of abundance and distribution of Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carriere (eastern hemlock) and evaluate the co-occurrence of Rhododendron maximum L. (rosebay) and Kalmia latifolia L. (mountain laurel). Terrain variables were derived from USGS DEM 30-meter digital maps. Elevation, slope, aspect, terrain shape index, landform, and distance from stream were calculated from field measurements and the digital data. Terrain attributes such as elevation (r² = 0.97, p < 0.0001), distance to stream (r² = 0.94, p < 0.0001), and terrain shape index (r² = 0.61, p = 0.0015) were good predictors of T. canadensis abundance. Terrain shape index explained 56% of the variation in R. maximum percent aerial cover (r² = 0.56, p = 0.005). In the Coweeta Basin, T. canadensis was distributed as few, large trees mostly concentrated in near-stream locations, and it was closely associated with R. maximum. Tsuga canadensis mortality due to Adelges tsugae Annand (hemlock wooly adelgid) will result in a minor decrease in basin-wide basal area, but will substantially reduce near-stream basal area, and will also remove the largest trees in near-stream environments. In similar landscapes across the southern Appalachians, where T. canadensis co-occurs with R. maximum, riparian shading will likely remain unchanged.