An alarming new study reveals that sugar maples are rapidly declining in New York's Adirondack Mountains - and here's why.
Sugar maple trees are synonymous with fall in the Northeast, with their radiant leaves and promise of fresh maple syrup in the spring. According to a study from researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, however, the sugar maples in upstate New York face a serious threat.
A university press release reveals that populations of the trees all throughout the eastern United States and Canada are on the decline. The study analyzed the growth rings of hundreds of trees throughout the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, and found that they have been growing less each year since 1970. According to Daniel Bishop, a masters student at ESF, “iven their relatively young age and favorable competitive status in these forests, these sugar maples should be experiencing the best growth rates of their lives. It was a complete surprise to see their growth slow down like this. But our data tells a clear story. We can detect the start of a region-wide downturn after 1970, with a large proportion of the trees continuing this trend over recent years.”
Sugar maples are prized all throughout the Northeast for their wood, sap, and contribution to scenic landscapes in the autumn. Sugar maples also help keep the soil fertile, and support a higher level of biodiversity in forests.
Dr. Colin Beier, an associate ecology professor at ESF thinks that the climate may be to blame. The weather in the Adirondacks since the 70s has become warm and wet. In addition to a significantly lower level of acid rain in the region, researchers expected plant life to thrive in these regions. All of the data, however, suggests that they are not.
Beier thinks there will need to be more studies to determine the real reason behind the decline of sugar maples in the Adirondacks. “Time will tell if slower growth is a harbinger of something more serious for sugar maple,” he said. “But given the ecological, economic and cultural importance of this tree, the stakes could be high. We need to sort out whether these declines are more widespread, the reasons why they are occurring, and what their implications might be for our ecosystems and local economies.”