Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Soil base saturation combines with Beech Bark Disease to influence composition and structure of Sugar Maple-Beech forests in an acid rain-impacted region

September 27, 2017

Sugar maple, an abundant and highly valued tree species in eastern North America, has experienced decline from soil calcium (Ca) depletion by acidic deposition, while beech, which often coexists with sugar maple, has been afflicted with beech bark disease (BBD) over the same period. To investigate how variations in soil base saturation combine with effects of BBD in influencing stand composition and structure, measurements of soils, canopy, subcanopy, and seedlings were taken in 21 watersheds in the Adirondack region of NY (USA), where sugar maple and beech were the predominant canopy species and base saturation of the upper B horizon ranged from 4.4 to 67%. The base saturation value corresponding to the threshold for Al mobilization (16.8%) helped to define the species composition of canopy trees and seedlings. Canopy vigor and diameter at breast height (DBH) were positively correlated (P < 0.05) with base saturation for sugar maple, but unrelated for beech. However, beech occupied lower canopy positions than sugar maple, and as base saturation increased, the average canopy position of beech decreased relative to sugar maple (P < 0.10). In low-base saturation soils, soil-Ca depletion and BBD may have created opportunities for gap-exploiting species such as red maple and black cherry, whereas in high-base saturation soils, sugar maple dominated the canopy. Where soils were beginning to recover from acidic deposition effects, sugar maple DBH and basal area increased progressively from 2000 to 2015, whereas for beech, average DBH did not change and basal area did not increase after 2010.