In the News

2018

Even Small Changes in Water Tables Could Lead to Big Changes in Wetlands

CypressSome wetlands could be much drier by the end of the 21st century, according to a recently published study involving Center scientists. Center research hydrologist Ge Sun and research colleagues used long-term hydrologic and meteorological data from five forested wetland study sites in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida to build models that incorporated projections of rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns. “Our primary goal was to understand how water tables in these study sites will respond to climate change,” says Sun. The models indicated that water tables could recede by a few to several inches and lead to drier wetlands—even where changes in water tables seem relatively small—with implications for wildland fire risk, exotic plant invasions, and ecosystem services such as water filtration, carbon storage, and wildlife habitat. Read more in CompassLive…

Pictured: A cypress wetland in Florida was among the five study sites, which are all predicted to become drier by 2100. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

 

For Nesting Least Terns, Water Levels Matter

Least tern with eggsLeast terns nest on sand along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and some of their tributaries, as well as coastal areas in the United States. Monitoring of the species began after the U.S. interior population was federally listed as an endangered species in 1985. “In the Missouri River basin, least terns were impacted when natural sandbars and habitat connectivity were lost due to development of large dams and reservoirs,” says Forest Service scientist Monica Schwalbach, lead author of a study that sheds light on the birds’ capacity to adapt to changes in their environment. Schwalbach conducted surveys on the Cheyenne River (a tributary of the Missouri River) in South Dakota over a 29-year period, and used this information to evaluate the relationship of this small population with the least tern population nesting along adjacent Oahe Reservoir on the Missouri River. Schwalbach and research collaborators, including Center scientists Lars Pomara and Bill Christie, wanted to know if birds on the river and reservoir might move between the two areas in response to fluctuating water levels. As it turns out, they likely do. The study, especially if combined with more extensive monitoring of individual birds, can help managers better understand the dynamics among least tern populations across the species range. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Least terns periodically require high water flows that restore sandbar habitat, but high water during the nesting season can wipe out nests and young chicks. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (courtesy of Flickr).

 

Are Rare and Distinct Tree Species Best Conserved in Protected Forests?

Hotspots_of_rare_and_distinct_tree_species.jpgWhen trees are under threat from a variety of often interacting factors such as insects and disease, climate change, and forest loss, Kevin Potter wondered if efforts to conserve certain species were most effective in protected forests. To find his answer, Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist who cooperates with the Eastern Threat Center, used data from 130,000 Forest Inventory and Analysis plots to assess the rarity and evolutionary distinctiveness (how closely species are related) of 352 North American tree species. He found that rare species occurred in “hotpots” located in California, Florida, central Texas, and parts of the Southwest. Hotspots of evolutionary distinctiveness occurred along the Pacific Coast, the Northern Rocky Mountains, and in scattered locations in the East. Across the nation, conservation has been more successful for distinct species as well as species that are both distinct and rare in protected areas managed for multiple uses (like national forests) compared to protected areas with restricted use (such as national parks and wildlife refuges). Species rarity and combined species rarity and evolutionary distinctiveness are both higher in unprotected areas across much of the nation; exceptions were found in the South, where protected areas better conserved these species. The study’s results, published in Biological Conservation, highlight areas that should be prioritized for conservation efforts to assist managers who must decide where to devote limited resources. Read more in CompassLive…

Pictured: A map shows hotspots of tree species that are both rare and evolutionarily distinct depicted in shades of red. Click to enlarge.

 

Article Raises Awareness of Snake’s Plight That Has Rattled Scientists and Managers

eastern_massasauga_habitat_model_Pomara2013.jpgThe eastern massasauga is the Midwest’s only rattlesnake, and scientists and managers are in a race to save it. The “swamp rattler,” as it is also known, lives in isolated wet areas such as bogs and fens, but development and agriculture have eliminated important habitat, as has a lack of management necessary to maintain the semi-open vegetation the snake requires. While most populations are on protected land today, historically the snake has also suffered from direct persecution by people who feared it, even including state bounties. And now the snake faces an uncertain future with the added threat of climate change, which is expected to make remaining habitat less suitable due to increasing risks of both drought and flood conditions. In an article for its “Our Stories” series, the Natural Resources Defense Council highlights the snake’s recent listing under the US Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve it, including research by Center ecologist Lars Pomara that assessed the species' vulnerability to climate change. Pomara and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that populations in the southern and western parts of the eastern massasauga’s range are the most vulnerable to climate change and that management activities undertaken sooner will be far more effective than delayed actions—findings that can help planners and managers develop conservation strategies for these populations in particular. Read the article…

Pictured: Pomara's study used spatially explicit demographic models to assess impacts of climate variability and land use on eastern massasauga populations between 1950 and 2008. A map shows extirpated and nearly extirpated populations in red and pink and larger populations in blue. Populations historically less exposed to climate and land conversion stressors are highlighted yellow. Click to enlarge.

 

International Experts Publish Global Assessment of Forests and Water

Cover_of_IUFRO_global_forest_and_water_assessment_report.jpgA newly published report presents the current state of knowledge on the relationships between forests and water across the planet. Center research ecologist and USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub Director Steven McNulty is among the report’s coauthors who assessed global forests’ capacity for supplying water resources to growing populations. “All nations depend on a reliable source of clean water, and forests provide the resource over much the world. However, increasing human demand and climate change and variability are making water shortages more common for billions of people,” says McNulty. “The objective of this study was to examine how adaptation, mitigation, and governance could be used to more equitably share and use forest water resources.” McNulty contributed to five chapters in the eight-chapter report and co-led the report’s chapter on determinants of the forest-water relationship, which highlights global trends within an interconnected social-ecological system. The chapter also discusses the factors driving changes to this system—including precipitation and air temperature, atmospheric chemistry influenced by air pollution, human-caused land use and land cover shifts, and increasing human populations and urbanization—that ultimately impact water quantity and quality at various scales and timeframes. The report, “Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Governance Opportunities,” was prepared by members of the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Water—an initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests led by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). McNulty is an IUFRO deputy-coordinator who served as a panel member with more than 50 internationally recognized scientists from 20 nations to develop the report. Learn more...

 

Science Helps Law Enforcement Tackle a Growing Problem on National Forests

Garbage covers the forest floor at an illegal marijuana grow siteIllegal marijuana growing operations on national forests pose serious risks to water resources and wildlife. Even in California, where marijuana is now legal and regulated to protect the environment and consumers, water diversion, water pollution, and poisoned animals result from illegal operations that are often run by international drug organizations—and the problems are increasing. A recent Forest Service blog post highlights several research efforts that are helping law enforcement officers detect illegal growing operations as well as anticipate where they may be set up next. Among the featured research is a study led by Center research ecologist Frank Koch and published in Ecological Economics that modeled how marijuana street prices, grow site characteristics, production costs, and dangers of being caught affect illegal growers’ decisions on where to establish their operations. Koch and his research collaborators are developing maps that show the likelihood of illegal growing operations across regional areas. Read more on the Forest Service blog…

Pictured: Garbage covers the forest floor at an illegal marijuana grow site on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

 

Family Forests Are the Ties That Bind the Landscape

Map and legend showing percent loss of U.S. interior forest between 2001 and 2011Family forests have an enormous capacity to provide ecosystem services such as clean air and water, timber and nontimber forest products, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty and recreation — benefits that stretch far beyond property lines. According to Center research ecologist Kurt Riitters, sustaining these services depends on not only the condition of individual family forests but also the characteristics of bordering lands. When Riitters and Jennifer Costanza, a North Carolina State University landscape ecologist and Center cooperator, studied changes in U.S. landscape patterns over a 10-year period, they found that landscapes containing family forests exhibited substantial changes over a relatively short period of time. “If the expansion of an urban area results in the loss of forest or if forest land is converted to farm land, an adjacent family forest’s ability to sustain ecosystem services is threatened. The effects could even be felt across a regional area,” says Riitters. The study, which was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, also identified broad areas where conservation of family forests could be targeted and leveraged to achieve far-reaching impacts. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Researchers mapped percent loss of interior forest--unfragmented land critical for habitat and ecological functions--between 2001 and 2011. At the end of the study period, just 29 percent of family forest area was interior forest. Click to enlarge.

 

The State of the Nation’s Forests is…

Cover_of_2017_FHM_annual_report.jpgForests are constantly changing with weather, disturbance, and conversion to other land uses, but how do we know if year-to-year changes are just a one-off or part of a larger shift? Annual summaries of forest health are key to our understanding, say the editors and authors that produced “Forest Health Monitoring: National Status, Trends, and Analysis 2017”—the seventeenth such summary in a series sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) program and published by the Southern Research Station. Scientists from across the Forest Service as well as university researchers, state partners, and many other experts contribute to the report, which is the only national summary of forest health undertaken on an annual basis. Kevin Potter, who co-edited the 2017 FHM report with fellow North Carolina State University scientist and Center cooperator Barb Conkling, describes the state of U.S. forests as “troubling.” “We have a great deal of forest in the United States, and much of it is in good shape,” he says. “At the same time, fires, insects and diseases, and droughts are impacting forest health in many places, and some of those forests may be altered permanently.” Read more in CompassLive...

 

From Tropical Rainforests to Faucets: Report Quantifies Water Yield across Puerto Rico

Cover of report called "Quantifying the role of forested lands in providing surface drinking water supply for Puerto Rico"Managers and researchers are monitoring recovery of Puerto Rico’s forests in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20, 2017. Not only do these forests provide vital habitat and economically important recreation opportunities, they are also critical sources of nearly half the island’s water supply say the authors of a recently published report. Using the WaSSI ecosystem services model, Center resource information specialist Erika Mack led the effort to quantify water supplies originating on 835,000 acres of commonwealth (public) and privately owned forests. “Forests make up about 38 percent of Puerto Rico’s total land area and contribute approximately 43 percent of its surface water supply,” says Mack. Private forest lands provide the majority of this water, while the 28,000-acre El Yunque National Forest provides about 3 percent. About 2.6 million people rely on these water supplies according to the study, which is part of an update to the Forest Service's 2014 Forests to Faucets project. Read more in CompassLive...

 

Study Looks Beyond Precipitation to Project Future Water Availability

Maps of projected runoff changes in the 2030sHistoric precipitation data have typically been scientists' number one source of information used in research to project future water runoff. “But things are changing and getting more complicated,” says Ge Sun, an Eastern Threat Center research hydrologist and co-author of a study that considered the role of other climate drivers in determining runoff and, therefore, the water available for humans and ecosystems. A research team led by Kai Duan, formerly a post-doctoral researcher with the Center who now conducts research with the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, used the Water Supply Stress Index (WaSSI) model to examine the influence of several climate variables. The model included temperature, solar radiation, wind speed, and specific humidity, in addition to precipitation, and projected runoff changes across the United States and within regional areas for the near and far future (2030s and 2080s, respectively) in comparison to the time period between 1970 and 1990. Findings revealed that areas in the central and southern United States could see decreased runoff primarily due to rising temperatures, which increase plants' use of water through evapotranspiration. Rising humidity in the East could offset some of the increases in evapotranspiration to stabilize runoff and water availability. Alternatively, runoff could increase in other areas of the country where precipitation is the dominant climate influence. Study results can help guide strategies for water conservation and other location-specific water management needs. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Maps from a model scenario show (left) projected percent change in annual runoff in the 2030s (decreases in reds, increases in greens) and (right) the relative importance of precipitation and temperature (blue and red, repectively) in these changes.

 

Center Scientist Helps Mind MANRRS Conference to Build Forest Service Careers

Johnny Boggs shakes hands with Smokey Bear Biological scientist Johnny Boggs attended his first Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) conference in 1997. Then a student at Alabama A&M University, he recalls how inspired he felt among 800 other students pursuing degrees and professional careers in natural resources and scientific fields. Today, he is among leaders providing support and inspiration to today’s students. At the MANRRS 2018 Annual Career Fair and Training Conference held in Greensboro, NC—the largest conference yet with 1,200 people in attendance—Boggs assisted with conference logistics as a liaison between the Forest Service and MANRRS. He also served on the hiring team for the first formal Forest Service hiring event. “MANRRS is not only an organization that promotes and fosters academic advancement, but it makes you want to be excellent – the best scholar you can be,” Boggs says of the non-profit organization which aims to “change the face of agriculture by linking hands around the world.” Read more in CompassLive…

Pictured: Johnny Boggs shares a moment with Smokey Bear at the MANRRS 2018 Annual Career Fair and Training Conference in Greensboro, NC. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

 

Researchers and Tribes Seek the Sweet Spot in Sweetgrass Harvests

Sweetgrass gatherers work in a research plot in Acadia National ParkSweetgrass, native to North America and found in wet habitats, is prized by Maine Indian basketmakers. The Wabanaki people, who comprise the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq tribes and who have cultural ties to the area now known as Acadia National Park, have faced limits and challenges on lands that were once traditional sweetgrass harvest sites. The National Park Service has recently modified regulations to once again allow the Wabanaki to gather plants within park boundaries, pending a new agreement to ensure the sustainability of the resource. In collaboration with Wabanaki gatherers, Center research biologist Michelle Baumflek is a lead researcher on a project that will help guide sustainable harvests based on tribal input and observations from test plots in the park. So far, results seem to support the Wabanaki people’s belief that traditional harvests are not detrimental to sweetgrass populations. “We’re trying to really think about different ways to gather knowledge,” says Baumflek. She adds that the work in Acadia National Park has “raised a hope that we can do shared research projects where everybody is respected and valued.” Read more about the project in an article from the Bangor Daily News

Pictured: Sweetgrass gatherers work in a research plot in Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Greenlaw, Bangor Daily News.

 

Burning Forests Impact Water Supplies

prescribed_fire_EVallery_Bugwood_5432804.jpgAfter a wildland fire burns away vegetation, rivers may rise. This could provide some relief for water supplies in drought-stricken areas, but there are trade-offs, according to a new study led by Center scientists and published in Nature Communications. “The bad news is that burned forests can cause water quality problems from soil erosion and sediment during flooding, immediately or long after the fires have occurred. This is especially problematic in watersheds that provide drinking water downstream,” explains research hydrologist Ge Sun. In the first nationwide study of wildland fire impacts on surface freshwater resources, researchers examined three decades of fire data along with climate and streamflow from 168 river basins. They found the most significant post-fire streamflow increases in the drier parts of the Lower Colorado Basin, in the Pacific Northwest, and in California. "The large scale of this study enabled us to determine that the annual river flow changed, and in most cases increased, when a fifth of the basin or more was burned by wildland fire,” says hydrologist Dennis Hallema, the study's lead author. In the southeastern United States, researchers found no significant change in streamflow after prescribed burns, which typically take place over smaller areas and burn less hot. Results from the study, which was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, can help land managers design mitigation strategies to suit local climate, watershed characteristics, and wildland fire conditions. Read more about the study in news releases from Nature Communications, the Southern Research Station, and Oregon State University, and listen to an interview on Phoenix-based KJZZ radio...

Pictured: In the Southeast, low intensity prescribed fires on smaller areas did not show appreciable streamflow increase for large watersheds. Photo by Erich Vallery, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

 

How Will Fish Fare in the North Carolina Piedmont?

Charlotte_skyline_NC.National.Guard.jpgWater withdrawals could be one of the most important factors affecting future fish communities in the fast-growing North Carolina Piedmont, say federal and university scientists who recently published a study in the journal Freshwater Biology. Center scientists Steve McNulty and Ge Sun are among the study's coauthors who projected fish species richness (number of species) under different future scenarios of water withdrawals, land cover, and climate. In addition to using fish data from the NC Division of Water Resources, the scientists used the Water Supply Stress Index (WaSSI) model to predict streamflow characteristics, such as the maximum amount and variability of streamflow, as well as the amount of streamflow originating on parking lots and other impervious surfaces. Results suggest that water withdrawals of 25 percent of natural flow could cause more than three species to disappear. Climate change and increases in impervious cover may not affect fish species richness across the region as a whole, but, in smaller watersheds, increases in impervious cover could also cause more than three fish species to disappear. Water managers can use this modeling approach to identify areas of concern or hotspots where changes in streamflow could threaten fish communities in order to make informed decisions about water conservation. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Increasing water withdrawals in the NC Piedmont, including citites like Charlotte, could impact future fish communities across the region. Photo by North Carolina National Guard.

 

Forest Service Deputy Chief Honors Center Research Hydrologist

2017_rd_deputy_chief_awardees.jpgCenter research hydrologist Ge Sun is one of four Forest Service scientists who have received 2017 Deputy Chief's Awards for outstanding contributions to research and science delivery. Sun was honored with a Distinguished Science award "for his sustained productivity and leadership in forest hydrology research, including the development and application of hydrological models and tools for global natural resource management in a changing environment." Research and Development Deputy Chief Carlos Rodriguez-Franco presented the awards during a ceremony on February 7 in Washington, DC. Southern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick accepted the award on behalf of Sun, who was also recently honored with a Forest Service Chief's Honor Award. Read more about the 2017 Deputy Chief's Awards...

Pictured: Carlos Rodriguez-Franco (right) presented 2017 Deputy Chief Awards to four Forest Service scientists on February 7. Rob Doudrick (left) accepted a Distinguished Science award on Sun's behalf. Photo by Joyce El Kouarti, U.S. Forest Service.

 

Climate Influences the Male-Female Balance in Longleaf Pines

Longleaf_male_strobili_UGA_Bugwood.jpg“Abundant evidence demonstrates that climate change affects plants in multiple ways, but some new studies have indicated that these effects could emerge in surprising ways,” says Eastern Threat Center research ecologist Qinfeng Guo. He and partners studying longleaf pines have discovered that temperature changes may be related to a shift in the density of pollen, with implications for cone crops, seed production, and future long-term sustainability. Their study, which was recently published in Plant Ecology & Diversity, centered on 56 years of data collected from longleaf pines on the Escambia Experimental Forest in Alabama. When the researchers paired each year of pollen, conelet, and cone counts with weather data from each previous year, they found that warmer weather resulted in greater pollen production. With relatively fewer female conelets to be fertilized under these conditions, cone and seed production became more variable. In cooler years, pollen production showed a relative decrease, limiting fertilization potential. As researchers learn more about these shifts in the male-female balance, forest managers may need to prepare to step in to ensure that populations can be sustained through a changing climate. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Male catkins on longleaf pine before (right) and after (left) releasing pollen. Photo by University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

 

How Cold Is Too Cold for Redbay Ambrosia Beetles?

Sassafras_distribution_and_beetle_mortality_Biological_Invasions.jpgNonnative redbay ambrosia beetles and the fungus they carry cause laurel wilt--a disease that threatens the entire Lauraceae family of plants in North America, including sassafras which covers the eastern United States and extends into Canada. Currently, only cold temperatures limit the beetles’ establishment and spread to sassafras trees outside the Southeast. For a study published in Biological Invasions, Center research ecologist Frank Koch and partners determined the coldest temperatures the beetles can tolerate and predicted where the beetles could move and survive now and in the future with warming winters. Based on a combination of laboratory and field tests of adult beetles and climate data, results suggest that nearly all sassafras populations are at risk of invasion. “Our models show that redbay ambrosia beetles could become established now in more than 99 percent of present sassafras populations. Just over half of present populations are located in areas where winters are typically cold enough to cause at least some beetle mortality,” says Koch. “In a future with higher winter minimum temperatures, more than 90 percent of the land area with sassafras populations would not experience winter temperatures low enough to kill redbay ambrosia beetles.” Results from this study highlight the need for continued monitoring in anticipation of more widespread laurel wilt mortality in a changing climate. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Maps show the range of sassafras and the invasion potential of redbay ambrosia beetles under current climate (top) and future climate (bottom). Most sassafras will be at risk as beetles spread north and survive through warmer winters. Click to enlarge.

 

Tree Range Shifts Among Discover Magazine's Top 100 Stories of 2017

Discover_JanFeb2018.jpgEach year, a special issue of Discover magazine highlights the top 100 science stories of the previous year. Ranked number 59 on the most recent list is a story based on research coauthored by Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist cooperating with the Eastern Threat Center. Potter and colleagues from Purdue University and the Southern Research Station analyzed extensive data on 86 tree species in the eastern United States and found that most trees have been shifting their ranges westward or northward in response to temperature and precipitation changes. (Their results were published in the May 2017 issue of Science Advances.) The top story on the Discover magazine list? The total solar eclipse that captured the nation's attention on August 21. Learn more about the study on tree range shifts, and check out Discover's Top 100 list in the January/February 2018 issue...

 

Do Roads Drive Forest Plant Invasions?

Road_and_farm_LKorhnak_InterfaceSouth.jpgRoads provide a means for moving people and products, but they can also allow hitchhiking organisms to spread. Some exotic invasive plants thrive on the disturbance created by road construction that displaces native plants. However, a new study led by Center research ecologist Kurt Riitters and published in Diversity and Distributions found that the presence of a road may be less important than the presence of farms and other human activities. “In the eastern U.S., a third of all forested areas are within 650 feet of a road, and invasive plants are found on half of the plots monitored by the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program,” says Riitters. “While there is little doubt that roads are linked to forest plant invasions at local scales, effective resource conservation at regional scales requires an understanding of other factors linked to both roads and invasions across the larger landscape.” Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: Researchers found that land use within ‘road effect zones’ is an important predictor of forest plant invasions. Photo by Larry Korhnak, InterfaceSouth.

 

Tribes Share Traditional Knowledge to Inform Forest Management Planning

ramps_in_a_forest_research_plot.jpgCenter research biologist Michelle Baumflek combines social, environmental, and biological sciences to address complex management questions. Her work with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is one such example: she studies ramp (wild onion) populations, experimentally comparing traditional harvest techniques to conventional and commercial practices. “We want to bring together indigenous knowledge and scientific evidence to better inform conservation on a landscape level,” she explains in an article published in the Carolina Public Press. Information on the sustainable management of ramps could be incorporated into the revised management plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, a draft of which should be released in 2018. Eleven federally recognized tribes, including the EBCI, are participating in the development of the new management plan by contributing their perspectives on access to forest resources and sustainability of culturally important species. Read more in the Carolina Public Press article…

Pictured: A research plot of ramps provides information on the sustainability of the plants following harvest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

 

Station Director Honors Three Center Staff Members

Bill_Hargrove_Danny_Lee_Erika_Mack.jpgSouthern Research Station Director Rob Doudrick has announced the recipients of the 2017 Station Director’s Awards. Among the eight awardees are three Center staff members. Research ecologist Bill Hargrove has been named the Station’s Distinguished Scientist “for sustained, high-quality, creative scientific contributions in support of research including leadership in ForWarn, ForeCASTS, and LanDAT projects.” Center Director Danny Lee is the recipient of the Science Delivery Award “in recognition of excellence in integrating advanced technologies, tools, and scientific understanding into Forest Service management.” Resource information specialist Erika Mack is the winner of the Research Professional Support Award “in recognition of innovations and increased efficiency and usages of modeling tools while reducing development costs.” Doudrick will hand out the awards in March 2018 at the Station’s spring Management Council meeting. “The work they have accomplished makes me very proud and I look forward to recognizing those who can attend the awards ceremony in person,” says Doudrick. Read more in CompassLive...

Pictured: (Left to right) Bill Hargrove, Danny Lee, and Erika Mack are recipients of 2017 Southern Research Station Director's Awards.

 

Underground Forces Could Explain Forests’ Vulnerability to Plant Invasions

Mycorrhizal_fungi_Indiana_University_photo.jpgBelow the surface of the forest floor, tiny fungi in the soil are feeding on sugars in tree roots while also providing an important ecosystem service: helping trees absorb soil nutrients necessary for growth and survival. Researchers have found that certain types of these mycorrhizal fungi, as they are known, may also determine the forest’s risk of being invaded by nonnative plants. “We discovered that forests dominated by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are more vulnerable to nonnative plant invasions. In these forests, AM fungi consume and recycle soil nutrients more rapidly compared to forests dominated by ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi,” says Kevin Potter, a North Carolina State University scientist cooperating with the Eastern Threat Center and a coauthor of the study. The greater nutrition available to trees in AM fungi-dominated forests allows both native and nonnative plants to thrive, but nonnative invasive plants’ growth rate can be 12 times that of native plants in these forests. Managers can use this information to monitor and target efforts to control invasive plants. “Where eastern U.S. forests are shifting from ECM-dominated oak-hickory forests to AM-dominated maple forests, managers should be on the lookout for more exotic plant invasions,” says Potter. Findings, published in Ecology Letters, are based on data from the Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program. Read more in a news release from the Northern Research Station…

Pictured: Mycorrhizal fungi (pictured in white and yellow) have a working relationship with tree roots. Photo by Indiana Unviersity.

 

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