FOREST RESPONSE FOLLOWING THE LOSS OF ASH
This study is part of an ongoing project established in 2007 as an emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) trapping study. The primary objective of this thesis was to assess how forests have changed following the loss of ash over a 15-year period, from 2007 to 2022. The study aimed to answer three key questions: 1) How has the loss of ash affected the regeneration and recruitment patterns of ash and other tree species? 2) Which specific species are driving forest regeneration and recruitment in the absence of ash? 3) Can the data be used to predict future changes in forest composition following the loss of ash? To achieve these objectives, I conducted analyses of 44 forests representing 19 different forest types in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Forest composition was examined at the overstory, midstory and understory levels to capture the overall impact of ash loss on forest regeneration and succession. Despite the decline or total loss in overstory ash, ash regeneration continued at most sites from 2017 to 2022. However, ash regeneration was not observed at 15 sites, and competition from established shade-tolerant species, such as red maple and American elm, was identified as a primary factor hindering ash recruitment. The loss of ash did not lead to significant changes in forest types. Forest types at all sites remained stable, with only minor shifts in dominant species. Tree species that were already present in the overstory filled the space left by the lost ash, thereby maintaining the existing forest types. In terms of driving species, my findings demonstrated a rapid increase in red maple dominance across all sites, particularly in the absence of ash. Red maple exhibited vigorous growth, suggesting it plays a crucial role in shaping future forest composition following ash loss. Other species, including black cherry, American elm, and American basswood, also contributed to forest regeneration, with some sites showing a shift toward a higher abundance of these species. Although the loss of ash has led to changes in forest composition, existing species have shown resilience and adaptability in filling the niche left by the lost genus. The long-term effects of emerald ash borer infestation on forest ecosystems are complex and multifaceted. This study provides insights into the regeneration and recruitment patterns of ash and other tree species following ash loss. The data suggest that while forests have experienced loss of ash, the remaining understory and midstory individuals of this species may contribute to future overstory recruitment. Furthermore, the dominance of red maple highlights its potential as a key driver of forest composition in the wake of ash loss.
- Master of Science
- Biological Sciences
- Fort Wayne