Sugar maples are one of the most important types of trees in the eastern United States and Canada on account of many factors, including their central role in the multi-billion dollar syrup industry.
A recent study conducted by scientists from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), though, suggests that in the Adirondacks these trees are experiencing a significant and startling decline.
The research looked at the growth rings of hundreds of trees throughout the Park, and results – published in the journal Ecosphere – concluded that the growth rate of sugar maples has been declining since 1970.
Daniel Bishop conducted the study as part of his ESF master’s thesis. ESF quoted Bishop as saying, “Given 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.”
Although the researchers are unsure about the exact cause of the declining growth, two potential factors are climate change and acid rain.
Dr. Colin Beier – ESF associate professor of ecology – acknowledges that these could’ve played a role, but was quoted as saying, “The last few decades have brought warmer and wetter conditions to the Adirondacks, which are typically good for plant growth. Meanwhile, there have been big strides in reducing acid rain, which is especially damaging to sugar maple. Given these changes, we would expect these trees to be thriving, but they are not.”
It has yet to be seen whether the observed trend is consistent outside of the Adirondacks, and additional research is necessary. Only time and further analysis will be able to show the extent of the problem.