To better manage its unique flora and fauna, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, became the first national park in the country to set up a Natural Heritage Data Center. The Natural Heritage Program gives the park the ability to inventory and monitor its rare plants, animals, and ecosystems.
Plant & Animal Species
The Smoky Mountains provide the only habitat in the world for several plant and animal species, including Cain’s reed-bent grass, Rugel’s ragwort, and Jordan’s (red-cheeked) salamander. Species new to the scientific community are found nearly every year, especially in the lesser-studied groups, such as the invertebrates.
The Smoky Mountains National Park has more tree species than northern Europe and contains one of the largest blocks of virgin temperate deciduous forest in North America. Almost 95% of the Smokey Mountain’s National Park is forested, and about 25% of that area has not been disturbed. Some trees attain record size in the Smoky Mountains and are over 20 feet in circumference.
The Smoky Mountain National Park is designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. The international system contains 324 reserves in 82 countries with the primary objectives of conserving genetic diversity and coordinating environmental education, research, and monitoring. The park is also a unit of the Southern Appalachian Man and Biosphere Reserve cluster. This membership enhances Smokey Mountain National park’s commitment to cooperative efforts in environmental education, research, resource management, and public involvement. The park’s designation as a World Heritage Site and a State Natural Heritage Area by Tennessee and North Carolina reinforces the value of its natural and cultural resources.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected land areas east of the Rocky Mountains. With over 500,000 acres of forest, the Smoky Mountains contain an enormous variety of plants and animals. In terms of biological diversity, a walk from mountain base to peak is often compared to the 2,000 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
Because of the elevation and orientation of the Great Smoky Mountains, there is a wide variety of plant and animal communities. In a small distance, changes in altitude, temperature, and moisture create entirely different ecosystems.
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