With no low-temperature nucleation layers, heteroepitaxial GaN films were grown at 1050°C on c-plane sapphire substrates by hydride vapor phase epitaxy. Not like for the films grown on low-temperature buffer layers, upon island merging no immediate smoothing of a surface was observed, but through several intermediate stages the surface morphology evolved from three-dimensional islands to terrace-and-step structures. From synchrotron x-ray diffraction measurements, it was revealed that the density of screw-or mixed-type threading dislocations greatly increased when the islands merged, but that of edge-type dislocations did not (edge-type threading dislocations are known to be dominantly formed in the GaN films grown on low-temperature buffer layers). This implies that the evolution of surface morphology sensitively depends on the type of threading dislocations introduced during island merging. Despite the absence of intentional nucleation layers, the strain was found to be fully relaxed even before the nucleated islands began to merge.