The sugar maple, one of the most economically and ecologically important trees in the eastern United States and Canada, is showing signs of being in decline, according to scientists at SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Harvard Forest.
An analysis of growth rings from trees across the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York revealed a decline in the growth rate for a majority of sugar maple trees, beginning after 1970. Daniel Bishop is the lead author of the study.
“We were pretty surprised to find that the majority of sugar maple trees sampled experienced declining growth rates. In contrast, only a small percentage experienced any positive trends.”
Bishop’s team analyzed hundreds of sugar maple growth rings from trees across the Adirondacks and compared them to climate data during the same time period. The study was set across a range of soil degradation caused by acid rain, which is a major stressor for sugar maple and a chronic issue in the Adirondacks.
Researchers did not find conclusive evidence that acid rain – or climate change – were direct culprits. But these stressors can render trees less resistant to other factors, like pests and diseases. A number of variables, from insect outbreaks to late frost damage, are known to affect sugar maples.
Depressed growth rates have implications for the management of sugar maple forests, whether the focus is on wood products or syrup production. The next step is to sort out the range of the sugar maple decline, its causes, and its implications for ecosystems and economies.
Full interview with lead author Daniel Bishop
Photo, posted February 21, 2010, courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio, with script contribution from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.