By Al Parker
It might seem out of place, and it certainly lives under the radar of tourists and locals alike, but Grayling’s W.J. Beal Tree Plantation might be the oldest documented experimental tree plantation in North America.
Situated inside the city’s industrial park and surrounded by the daily bustle of commerce, this placid, historic green space, on many days, is seen only by delivery truck drivers and workers who rumble along Industrial Park Road, unaware of the significance of the towering pine trees they pass.
“This site might be the only one in the country where reforestation has been so well documented and preserved over more than 100 years,” wrote Frank Telewski, a Michigan State University professor of plant biology, at the site’s dedication in 1997.
Once 80 acres, the site is now only about 5 acres, but it’s filled with towering pine trees that stand as testament to the foresight of William James Beal, a bearded, burly, and bold visionary who taught botany and horticulture at the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC), now Michigan State University, from 1871 to 1910. A pioneer of what came to be called “The New Botany,” Beal extolled independent learning through observation.
“In the 1800s we did not know how to grow and plant trees,” said Susan Thiel, a now-retired Department of Natural Resources Forest Manager who managed the Beal Tree Plantation. “Professor Beal did vast experimentation across several different sites to learn how to collect seed, plant and germinate it, and grow trees of different varieties. This site helped develop the science of growing and regenerating trees and reforesting sites as we know it today.”
Beal’s Grayling Agricultural Experiment Station offered unique promise: Its 80 acres came courtesy of the Michigan Central Railroad Company, which had donated the “wild land” to MAC — land that had been cut and exposed to fire, which left a scattering of random jack pines and oak root sprouts. The Grayling location became the “base substation,” wrote Beal “because the area’s climate and conditions would represent the average — neither the best nor the poorest of the sterile land.”
Moving quickly, Beal supervised the cleaning and preparation of the ground. A barbed wire-and-board fence was built to keep cattle and animals away, while a 5-foot strip of ground was plowed along both sides of the fence to deter fires from entering the property.
By May of 1888, Beal had directed the planting of 2,145 seedlings, which came from W.W. Johnson of Antrim County. The seeds were planted in 14 rows, each row precisely four feet apart. Along the north side and south sides, 20 acres each were designated for agricultural experiments.
Beal would not have long to watch his seedling and saplings grow; in 1891, Beal was relieved of his work at the plantation and was replaced the following year by Dr. O. Palmer.
In 1997, an inventory was taken; it showed that of the 41 species started as seedlings or seeds in 1888 and 1889, no hardwoods survived. But original stems from seven of nine conifers endured, mostly red pine and white pine. They stand there still today, silently and majestically greeting visitors to the Beal Tree Plantation.
The plantation is open to the public, free to enter, and features a handicap-accessible path for visitors to explore. There are a few weathered signs that offer information, a couple of benches along the needle-strewn path, and limited parking. Find a map at www.michigan.org/property/wj-beal-tree-plantation.
By Chrissy Sexton
Professor Matthew Evans from the University of Hong Kong created a computer model to estimate how ash dieback disease may affect the UK’s 125 million ash trees.
Human-induced changes to the environment are increasing the rate at which pests and diseases are introduced, which is severely threatening to native species. Long-lived species that reproduce slowly, such as forest trees, are particularly susceptible to new pathogens.
It is estimated that in 2015, 100 million hectares of forest were affected by pests and diseases around the globe. However, the subsequent impacts to any given forest ecosystem cannot be detected for years, so experts use computer models to predict future outcomes.
In a recent study, Professor Matthew Evans from the University of Hong Kong created a computer model to estimate how ash dieback (ADB) disease may affect the UK’s 125 million ash trees.
ADB disease, which is caused by a fungus native to East Asia, was introduced to the UK seven years ago. This incurable infection leaves diamond-shaped scars on the bark and causes the leaves to fall off of the trees.
About one in every 100 ash trees is able to resist the fungus and avoid infection. This is likely due to a genetic advantage which allows the trees to shed their leaves earlier to prevent the fungus from establishing itself.
Professor Evans found that at the current level of resistance, 95 percent of the UK’s ash trees could be wiped out by the end of the century. He determined that breeding more ash trees with resistance will prevent millions of deaths.
By Lex Treinen
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) – Scientists have been working feverishly to understand the processes that drive wildfires in the state and in the country, and unsurprisingly there is some worrying news about chance of big fires in the future.
While national agencies offer predictions the data is pretty coarse without nuance to the terrain or ecology of an area.
So researchers like Peter Bieniek of UAF are working to produce better models to increase the accuracy of forecasts and models, particularly on a large scale and in longer time frames. Beniek’s work focuses on analyzing data for future, high-probability fire days, and the results aren’t much of a surprise considering a warming planet.
“Likely looking down the road, especially in these future projections, data show that we’re gonna get more higher fire danger over the next hundred years,” says Bieniek.
One of the main drivers of higher probability is a likely increase in lightning strikes in Interior Alaska, which is caused by a higher likelihood of convective precipitation. Convective precipitation occurs when water vapor rises straight up through the atmosphere to form clouds, instead of moving diagonally like normal weather patterns that bring various forms of precipitation.
That moves the total likelihood of a fire year like 2015 — when five million acres burned — higher by 34 to 60%, according to Bieniek’s data.
Bieniek’s data show that these sorts of strikes are likely to increase as convection precipitation increases. That, in turn, drives up the likelihood of fires.
An interesting finding is that two different models used by Bieniek and his colleagues indicate that while fire danger is likely to rise in the early season–May, June, and July– the models diverge as to whether the fire danger will stay as high in August and September. That means that fire managers could be seeing intense strain on firefighting crews earlier in the season, and have it taper off later in the season. For now, though, they aren’t making any bets.
By Rob Jordan
It costs more than a new iPhone XS, and it’s made out of hazelnut shrub stems. Traditional baby baskets of Northern California’s Yurok and Karuk tribes come at a premium not only because they are handcrafted by skilled weavers, but because the stems required to make them are found only in forest understory areas experiencing a type of controlled burn once practiced by the tribes but suppressed for more than a century.
A new Stanford-led study with the U.S. Forest Service in collaboration with the Yurok and Karuk tribes found that incorporating traditional techniques into current fire suppression practices could help revitalize American Indian cultures, economies and livelihoods, while continuing to reduce wildfire risks. The findings could inform plans to incorporate the cultural burning practices into forest management across an area one and a half times the size of Rhode Island.
“Burning connects many tribal members to an ancestral practice that they know has immense ecological and social benefit especially in the aftermath of industrial timber activity and ongoing economic austerity,” said study lead author Tony Marks-Block, a doctoral candidate in anthropology who worked with Lisa Curran, the Roger and Cynthia Lang Professor in Environmental Anthrolopogy.
“We must have fire in order to continue the traditions of our people,” said Margo Robbins, a Yurok basket weaver and director of the Yurok Cultural Fire Management Council who advised the researchers. “There is such a thing as good fire.”
The study, published in Forest Ecology and Management, replicates Yurok and Karuk fire treatments that involve cutting and burning hazelnut shrub stems. The approach increased the production of high-quality stems (straight, unbranched and free of insect marks or bark blemishes) needed to make culturally significant items such as baby baskets and fish traps up to 10-fold compared with untreated shrubs.
Reducing fuel load
Previous studies have shown that repeated prescribed burning reduces fuel for wildfires, thus reducing their intensity and size in seasonally dry forests such as the one the researchers studied in the Klamath Basin area near the border with Oregon. This study was part of a larger exploration of prescribed burns being carried out by Stanford and U.S. Forest Service researchers who collaborated with the Yurok and Karuk tribes to evaluate traditional fire management treatments. Together, they worked with a consortium of federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations across 5,570 acres in the Klamath Basin.
The consortium has proposed expanding these “cultural burns” – which have been greatly constrained throughout the tribes’ ancestral lands – across more than 1 million acres of federal and tribal lands that are currently managed with techniques including less targeted controlled burns or brush removal.
In 2001, forest pathologists in Oregon discovered what was killing trees in Curry County in southwest Oregon – a devastating disease known as sudden oak death. Almost 20 years later, sudden oak death hasn’t spread beyond the county’s borders.
Although the initial goal was eradication, limiting sudden oak death’s spread proved to be a success, said Everett Hansen, a now-retired Oregon State University professor who helped spearhead the effort to contain the spread of the disease.
“From day one, we invoked legal machinery to mandate the destruction of diseased trees,” Hansen said. “Every time we found a diseased tree we cut it down as fast as we could. We were going full bore. So, we went through all these years without any published data to suggest what we were doing was working.”
In a new study published in the journal Forest Pathology, Hansen and colleagues at the Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service highlight the successes of the two-decade effort to manage and reduce the spread of sudden oak death in Oregon.
In 2001, federal, state and local agencies marshaled their resources to manage the outbreak. They quarantined areas where the trees had been infected and cut down and burned sick trees.
“We focused on local treatments instead of landscapes, sometimes by design but sometimes out of necessity,” said Hansen, lead author on the study. “If it was one tree and we cut it down and all the surrounding trees for a mile we might well have eradicated it. But we never had that chance. We didn’t have enough chainsaws.”
However, the researchers found that these treatments did demonstrably reduce the infestation. They concluded that eradication of sudden oak death is difficult — the pathogen that causes the disease may survive in soil for several years – but not impossible.
By Susan Perry
“Our findings suggest that urban greening strategies with a remit for supporting community mental health should prioritize the protection and restoration of urban tree canopy,” the researchers concluded.
Many studies have found that living near a green space — land that is partly or completely covered with natural vegetation — is associated with health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and an increased sense of general wellbeing.
Research has even linked green space with lower Medicare expenditures.
What hasn’t been clear from these studies, however, is whether all types of green space confer the same benefits. Or are some green spaces potentially more healthful than others?
A new study from Australia, published recently in JAMA Network Open, offers an answer. It found that although residents of neighborhoods with plenty of leafy trees tend to have higher levels of psychological health and well-being, the same isn’t true for people living in neighborhoods where the green space consists primarily of open areas of grass.
In fact, people living in areas with higher percentages of bare grass tend to have higher levels of psychological stress, the study found. They also report being in poorer health.
“Our results suggest the type of green space does matter,” write the study’s authors, Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng, in an online article for The Conversation. The two researchers are founding co-directors of the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab at the University of Wollongong.
This finding doesn’t mean, however, that existing grassy areas should be removed or plans for new ones should be scrapped, they stress.
“Large open areas of grass can be awesome for physical activity and sport,” they write, “but let’s make sure there is also plenty of tree canopy too, while also thinking about ways to get more people outdoors in green spaces.”
Astell-Burt and Feng offer several possible explanations for their study’s findings. One has to do with the shade offered by trees:
Studies are linking high temperatures with heat exhaustion and mental health impacts. Research has suggested trees, rather than other forms of green space, may be best at reducing temperatures in cities. It may also simply be more comfortable to walk outside in cooler temperatures — not to mention going for a run or bike ride, both of which are good for mental health.
The biodiversity that trees offer may also be beneficial:
Research suggests tree canopy tends to be more biodiverse than low-lying vegetation. Increased biodiversity may support better mental health by enhancing the restorative experience and also via the immunoregulatory benefits of microbial “Old Friends” — microorganisms that helped shape our immune systems but which have been largely eliminated from our urban environments.
Open areas of grass, on the other hand, are not as inviting and therefore may impede rather than enhance health:
[L]arge areas of bare grass in cities can make built environments more spread-out and less dense. Without tree canopy to shield from the midday sun, this may increase the likelihood of people using cars for short trips instead of walking through a park or along a footpath. The result is missed opportunities for physical activity, mental restoration, and impromptu chats with neighbours. Previous work in the United States suggests this might be why higher death rates were found in greener American cities.
By Beth Gavrilles
The longleaf pine forests of the southeastern U.S. depend on frequent fire to maintain their structure and the diversity of plants and animals they support. New research from the University of Georgia has found that fire may be playing another, unexpected role: releasing excessive nitrogen that appears to have accumulated as a legacy of prior land use.
“It was not what we were expecting,” said senior author Nina Wurzburger, an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology. “We first were wondering whether there was enough nitrogen fixation to balance nitrogen losses from fire, and now our hypothesis is that fire might be necessary to remove excess nitrogen from these ecosystems. We basically turned the question on its head.”
“We came to the conclusion that fire might be getting rid of excess nitrogen,” said Wurzburger. “Most of the longleaf pine that exists today has been planted, and those areas have legacy effects of agriculture or grazing or fire exclusion. Our research is suggesting that all those things, and nitrogen deposition too, have put too much nitrogen in the ecosystem. So maybe we should think about fire as a management tool to remove nitrogen that accumulated historically, and to help return these ecosystems to their natural nitrogen-poor state.”
Understanding the interacting role of fire and historical disturbances in longleaf ecosystems is important for several reasons, including carbon sequestration and the conservation of biodiversity: longleaf savannas can contain more than 40 species of plants in a square meter, and harbor a number of rare species of plants and animals, including the federally endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
A bizarre insight from our kauri means we should view forests as ‘super-organisms’.
Kiwi scientists have been astonished to find how kauri stumps can keep themselves alive by feeding off water from neighbouring trees.
The AUT researchers behind the ground-breaking discovery say it should mean we view trees not as individuals, but members of a forest ecosystem that’s essentially a “super-organism”.
Further, their findings could have big implications for tackling the disease killing kauri across the upper North Island.
In the new study, published in iScience this week, AUT’s Dr Martin Bader and Associate Professor Sebastian Leuzinger described how trees surrounding kauri stumps offer them a form of life support, possibly in exchange for access to larger root systems.
It was an insight the pair stumbled across while hiking in West Auckland, and spotting an unusual-looking stump.
“It was odd, because even though the stump didn’t have any foliage, it was alive,” Leuzinger said.
They decided to investigate how the nearby trees were keeping the tree stump alive by measuring water flow in both the stump and the surrounding trees belonging to the same species.
They found that the water movement in the tree stump was strongly negatively correlated with that in the other trees.
These measurements suggest the roots of the stump and surrounding conspecific trees were grafted together, Leuzinger said.
Root grafts can form between trees once a tree recognises that a nearby root tissue, although genetically different, is similar enough to allow for the exchange of resources.
“This is different from how normal trees operate, where the water flow is driven by the water potential of the atmosphere,” Leuzinger said.
“In this case, the stump has to follow what the rest of the trees do or else use osmotic pressure to drive water flow, because since it lacks transpiring leaves, it escapes the atmospheric pull.”
But while root grafts are common between living trees of the same species, the pair were interested in why a living kauri tree would want to keep a nearby stump alive.
“For the stump, the advantages are obvious— it would be dead without the grafts, because it doesn’t have any green tissue of its own,” Leuzinger said.
“But why would the green trees keep their grandpa tree alive on the forest floor while it doesn’t seem to provide anything for its host trees?”
One explanation, Leuzinger said, is that the root grafts formed before one of the trees lost its leaves and became a stump.
The grafted roots expand the root systems of the trees, allowing them to access more resources such as water and nutrients.
They also increased the stability of the trees on the steep forest slope.
By Jennifer Moore Myers
In 1989, South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest lost close to a third of its pine and hardwood trees to Hurricane Hugo. USDA Forest Service land managers have spent the last thirty years recovering from that disturbance and working to meet the state’s growing needs for clean water, forest products, recreation areas, and wildlife habitat.
To that end, the Francis Marion adopted a new forest plan in 2017 focused upon restoring longleaf pine, the once-dominant southern species, across 33,000 acres of national forest lands.
This goal and the management work to implement it are based on a body of experimental research about forest ecology and hydrology — much of it conducted on the Santee Experimental Forest.
The Santee sits on the west side of the Francis Marion. Established in 1937, it’s a 6,100-acre living laboratory that has hosted many long-term studies on the effects of fire, hurricanes, and forest management practices on tree growth, streamflow, and wildlife communities.
SRS scientists and national forest managers have teamed up to study the impacts of replacing existing loblolly pine stands with longleaf pine.
Earlier, fine-scale studies suggest that water yield from longleaf pine landscapes may be greater than that from loblolly pine or mixed pine and hardwood stands due to differences in forest structure and composition between the two pine environments.
“Longleaf pine restoration is a priority for the Southern Region of the National Forest System,” says research soil scientist Carl Trettin. “This project is an opportunity to advance the current science on longleaf restoration to broader scales as well as support the Region and the Forest.”
Jeff Mulhollem, Pennsylvania State University
Genes in green ash trees that may confer some resistance to attacks by the emerald ash borer express themselves only once the tree detects the invasive beetle’s feeding, according to Penn State researchers.
Knowing this, geneticists may be able to selectively breed trees to strengthen them and perhaps move the resistance response earlier to ward off the beetles’ onslaught, explained John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics.
Green ash, an ecologically and economically valuable tree species native to eastern and central North America, is under severe threat from the rapid invasion of emerald ash borer, a wood-boring beetle native to Asia. Penn State scientists and others are trying to save the species.
Prior observations in a green ash provenance trial—an experiment to see how plants adapt—planted at Penn State in 1978 by Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of The Arboretum at Penn State, and colleagues in the U.S. Forest Service, show that a very small percentage of ash trees survive emerald ash borer infestations, seemingly because their tissues do not nourish and perhaps even sicken the beetles.
“Emerald ash borer probably entered the provenance trial unnoticed around 2008 and trees started showing symptoms of attack by 2012,” Carlson said. “All but eight or nine of the approximately 1,800 trees that Kim planted have subsequently been killed by the beetles.”
Ash trees succumb after adult beetles lay eggs on their bark. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the bark and feed on the transportation tissues of the tree. This disrupts the movement of nutrients and water within the tree, girdling it and causing death.
“To better understand the response of green ash trees to emerald ash borer, we compared gene expression data for resistant versus susceptible green ash genotypes exposed to attack by the beetles,” said Carlson, director of Penn State’s Schatz Center for Tree Molecular Genetics. “By comparing RNA-sequence data from stems attacked by emerald ash borer to multiple tree tissues under other stresses, we could identify differences in the gene expression profiles specific to emerald ash borer resistance.”