Beech booming as climate changes, and that's bad for forests

Beech trees are dominating the woodlands of the northeastern United States as the climate changes, and that could be bad news for the forests and people who work in them, according to a group of scientists.

The scientists say the move toward beech-heavy forests is associated with higher temperatures and precipitation. They say their 30-year study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Ecology, is one of the first to look at such broad changes over a long time period in the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada.

The changes could have major negative ramifications for forest ecosystems and industries that rely on them, said Dr. Aaron Weiskittel, a University of Maine associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and one of the authors.

Beech, often used for firewood, is of much less commercial value than some species of birch and maple trees that can be used to make furniture and flooring.

"There's no easy answer to this one. It has a lot of people scratching their heads," Weiskittel said. "Future conditions seem to be favoring the beech, and managers are going to have to find a good solution to fix it."

The authors of the study, who are from the University of Maine and Purdue University, used U.S. Forest Service data from 1983 to 2014 from the states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont to track trends in forest composition. They found that abundance of American beech increased substantially, while species including sugar maple, red maple and birch all decreased.

That's a problem not only because of beech's lower value, but because of the spread of beech bark disease, which causes the trees to die young and be replaced by newer trees that succumb to the same disease.

The authors found that the rise of beech and the decline of other species is associated with "higher temperature and precipitation" in the forests. The dominance of beech was also especially notable in some key tourist areas—the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

And beech has the possibility to grow even more because it's not a favorite food of deer, which will eat more seedlings of other trees, Weiskittel said.

The paper echoes other work that shows environmental changes are squeezing out important tree species, said Dr. Martin Dovciak, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry who was not involved with the study.

"It's important to realize that the species composition that we are used to, in terms of forest management, might be different in the future," he said.

The changing forests will also pose challenges for loggers and timberland owners in the Northeast. More beech could mean less access to quality lumber for the timber industry, said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

"We're really dealing with the fallout from climate change, and how do we manage to accommodate for that," he said.

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Feb 26, 2018
A bad forest is better than none at all. Chestnut and elm have basically been wiped out. Ash is being wiped out presently. The decimation of hemlock, tsuga canadensis, may be soon wiped out by the woolly adelgid. The woolly adelgid already wiped out the southern hemlock, tsuga caroliniana. Numerous trees species were wiped out on the first logging of the virgin forest.
"We're really dealing with the fallout from climate change, and how do we manage to accommodate for that," he said.

The patient has typhus, but the bloody nose killed them. Climate change did it, my arse. Absolutely sickening.

Feb 26, 2018
The American Chestnut tree is the giant cousin of the American Beech, and the devastating loss of billions of American Chestnut trees caused havoc to the ecology of Eastern forests. To a large extent beech trees are taking over much of the territory formerly dominated by chestnuts. Maples and birches spread faster and grow faster than beeches, but given enough time time beeches will eventually dominate maples and birches.

Climate change may have something to do with the spread of beech trees into maple forests, but old-fashioned ecological progression is a major force in this process, and should have been heavily accounted for in the article.

Feb 26, 2018
Speaking to forest progression, it is my understanding that the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) only made it up to southern N.E. 1000 years ago. It lagged the glacial retreat by 10,000 years. The source of this information may have been the Cornell Plantations.

Feb 27, 2018
Sorry, Beech trees are a climax forest tree. We are getting more mature forests because we are using fossil fuels and not cutting down trees for fuel.

Feb 27, 2018
So, if I understand all the whining above?

That rockfall (natural of course!) half-covering your broken, bleeding bodies?

I don't want to have to listen to your cries for help. I can just run a bulldozer up and shove the whole mess including you, out of the way of progress?

Cause I'm on a time schedule and am motivated to earn a profit. No matter what it costs you. And that making your lives more miserable is justifiable for the almighty buck.

Please feel free to disagree with my understanding of your mammon-driven motives.

Feb 27, 2018
Coal did displace wood once it was gone.

a) Around 1920 tractors were being introduced to the family farming. Hill farms were no longer economical. During the depression of the 30s some states bought up the failing hardscrabble farms and let them revert to woodland. So some forests are getting a chance to mature. They will need at least another 200 years to reach any kind of maturity approaching a virgin forest. If

b) The prevalent practice around here is to harvest as soon as a woodland's trees begin to exceed 12 inch diameters. The owner sells the stumpage (cutting rights). Almost all land is privately owned. Thirty-five years ago hardwood timber was a small operation around here. For 2 decades it has been our number one growth industry and is very big today.

In the very few virgin woodlands of N.E. I have seen Beech has not been present.
So it would appear rather difficult for Beech to establish itself without a current presence, particularly being it is a nut tree.

Feb 27, 2018
Sugar maples require a hard freeze in the winter to stay healthy. Major maple sugar operations in northern Michigan (where I grew up) have almost completely shut down because it's too warm in the winter. Wonder if beech nuts will become a replacement crop.

Feb 27, 2018

On the Peninsula? I grew up in MN so like you I know what a real winter freeze is.

Interesting that where I am now has milder winters and the sap run is a pretty big thing here. There is nothing like boiling the sap on a cold March or April night.

At http://blogs.corn...-forest/

They actually have 5 inch diameter pipes at the final points of collection.

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