Age, forest structure, and disturbance history of five potential old-growth forests in eastern Kentucky's Cumberland Plateau
The Cumberland Plateau (CP) is an ecoregion of global importance, yet its extent of old- growth forest (OG) is not well known. Due to its rarity and importance, understanding what OG remains is needed to deduce the region's health. This study described five potential OG forests in eastern Kentucky. Sites possessing >5 trees/ha established prior to 1780, and being similar in disturbance history and forest structure to other regional OG were to be considered OG. Shillalah Creek (SC) and Hensley-Pine Mountain (HP) possess no in plot trees established prior to 1780, show evidence of stand-wide disturbance during the 1930's, are denser than average eastern OG, and possess little coarse woody debris (CWD). SC and HP likely were altered by Chestnut Blight; in addition SC appears to have been logged around the time of chestnut loss. Angel Hollow (AH) exhibits continual disturbance often seen in eastern OG due to tree-fall gaps and is similar to average OG density, volume of CWD, snags and pre-European trees/ha. A change in establishment environment during the mid-1800's suggests AH might have been selectively logged. Gladie Creek (GC) and Natural Bridge (NB) exhibit disturbance during the 1890's likely the result of human land use. GC possesses low amounts of CWD while NB approaches ranges found in previously studied old-growth forest. Results suggest no site meets study standards of OG and underscore a need for further study regarding locating and quantifying OG on the CP.