As American Forests Change, One Tree Is Emerging

Beech is booming, but that may be bad news overall as temperatures rise
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 26, 2018 10:25 AM CST
Updated Mar 3, 2018 7:00 AM CST
Beech Trees Are Booming, but There's a Downside
In a 2016 photo provided by the University of Maine, a rep from the Northern Hardwoods Research Institute describes beech bark disease to members of the University of Maine Cooperative Forestry Research Unit in Aroostook County.   (Brian E. Roth/University of Maine via AP)

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 US and southeastern Canada, per the AP. The changes could have major negative ramifications for forest ecosystems and industries that rely on them, says Dr. Aaron Weiskittel, a University of Maine associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and one of the study's authors.

"There's no easy answer to this one. It has a lot of people scratching their heads," Weiskittel says. "Future conditions seem to be favoring the beech, and managers are going to have to find a good solution to fix it." Beech, often used for firewood, is of much less commercial value than species of birch and maple trees that can be used to make furniture and flooring. The study found that the American beech has increased substantially from 1983 to 2014, while species such as 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 prognosis for ash trees is pretty bleak.)

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