Nav: Home

Surprising resurgence of red spruce likely result of cleaner air and warmer winters

June 05, 2018

BURLINGTON, Vt., (June 5, 2018) - Red spruce, for decades the forest equivalent of the canary in the coal mine signaling the detrimental effects of acid rain on northeastern forests, is making a comeback. New research by a team of scientists from the USDA Forest Service and the University of Vermont suggests that a combination of reduced pollution mandated by the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act and changing climate are behind the resurgence.

The study, "The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature" by lead author Alexandra Kosiba of the University of Vermont with co-authors Paul Schaberg of the USDA Forest Service's Northern Research Station and University of Vermont researchers, was published this week in the journal Science of the Total Environment. The study is available at: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/56217

The research team assessed the relationship between red spruce growth and factors that may influence growth such as tree age and diameter, stand dynamics, plot characteristics (elevation, slope, aspect, geographical position), and environmental variables including temperature, precipitation, a suite of climate indices, and sulfur and nitrogen pollution deposition that cause acid deposition. In a study that encompassed 658 trees in 52 plots spanning five states, they found that more than 75 percent of red spruce trees and 90 percent of the plots examined in the study exhibited increasing growth since 2001.

"Our research suggests that the reductions we've seen in acid rain are making a difference to forests in the Northeast," said Schaberg. "Acid rain decline has helped red spruce recover, as well as higher temperatures in the fall, winter, and spring. Higher temperatures help some species and hurt others - right now, red spruce are benefiting, but they could be vulnerable to change in the future."

Red spruce have unique characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to acid rain. For example, they have little genetic variation and they have only moderate tolerance to the cold. But they are also able to "wake up" and photosynthesize during warm interludes of the dormant season, a characteristic that may better position the species to take advantage of recent climate shifts that extend the functional growing season. Yet the study notes that future changes in habitat suitability may not be as favorable to red spruce as those already experienced - it will likely depend on how extreme future changes are.

Scientists are confident that their research represents the state of red spruce in the entire region, according to Kosiba. "Our study included a broad range of tree ages and sizes as well as a variety of plot locations and characteristics," she said. "We are confident that we are capturing the regional status of red spruce forests, not just a snapshot of a specific location."

"More broadly our work demonstrates the importance of using research to identify ecosystem problems that inform policy to mitigate those issues, and result in biological recovery," noted Kosiba.
-end-
Co-authors included Shelly Rayback and Gary Hawley of the University of Vermont.

The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station

Related Genetic Variation Articles:

Scientists identify genetic variation linked to severity of ALS
A discovery made several years ago in a lab researching asthma at Wake Forest School of Medicine may now have implications for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease with no known cure and only two FDA-approved drugs to treat its progression and severity.
Genetic variation contributes to individual differences in pleasure
Differences in how our brains respond when we're anticipating a financial reward are due, in part, to genetic differences, according to research with identical and fraternal twins published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Genetic variation linked to response to anxiety could inform personalised therapies
A new study in marmoset monkeys suggests that individual variation in genes alters our ability to regulate emotions, providing new insights that could help in the development of personalised therapies to tackle anxiety and depression.
Old for new, using ancient genetic variation to supercharge wheat
A global, collaborative effort led by the Earlham Institute, UK and CIMMYT, Mexico sheds light on the genetic basis of biomass accumulation and efficiency in use of light, both of which are bottlenecks in yield improvement in wheat.
How hot spots of genetic variation evolved in human DNA
New research investigates hot spots of genetic variation within the human genome, examining the sections of our DNA that are most likely to differ significantly from one person to another.
Broad genetic variation on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe
The genetic variation within the Scythian nomad group is so broad that it must be explained with the group assimilating people it came in contact with.
Genetic variation may increase risk of liver damage in patients with chronic hepatitis B
A new study has shown that genetic variation may increase the risk of severe liver damage in Caucasians with chronic hepatitis B infection.
UCI scientists identify hidden genetic variation that helps drive evolution
Identifying complex mutations in the structure of an organism's genome has been difficult.
Researchers uncover genetic basis of natural variation in aging rate
Lifespan extension induced by genetic mutations has been shown in recent studies not to necessarily delay age-related behavioral decline.
Yeast spotlights genetic variation's link to drug resistance
Researchers have shown that genetic diversity plays a key role in enabling drug resistance to evolve.
More Genetic Variation News and Genetic Variation Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.