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Friday, January 1, 2010

There’s hope for beeches

In your article headlined “Alien bugs at our door” (November/December), the first paragraph says: “Since the 1960s, the beech-scale insect has devastated the region’s beech trees—so much so that scientists believe the species may not survive here.”

I don’t know any scientist working on beech-bark disease who thinks the species won’t persist here. After all these years the area covered by beech trees is the same as it was before, but the forest structure has changed drastically. What we have ended up with is a lot of small trees and very few large, old beeches.
New beeches continue to sprout from roots, and there is still seed regeneration as well. While many trees die quickly, some trees live a long time with a lot of disease and quite full canopies.

We don’t know the future, but beech-bark disease is quite different from some other disease systems in that the host species is hanging on quite well (at least as small trees) because of the beech’s incredible ability to root sprout. Only about 1 percent of trees may be truly resistant, but many more can live to a fair level of maturity before succumbing to the disease. We don’t have enough empirical data to really do the modeling into the future, but it doesn’t look like beeches will go away any time soon!

Celia Evans, Merrilsville, NY
Evans teaches ecology at Paul Smith’s College.

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