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News Article

Resurgence of the red spruce

An increase in the growth of North American red spruces has been attributed to climate change and reduced acid rain

Not fifty years ago red spruce trees were one of the key victims of acid rain in North Eastern USA forests, their poor cold tolerance and genetic homogeneity making them particularly vulnerable. However in recent years these trees have been making a comeback and research undertaken by the USDA Forest Service and the University of Vermont has sought to uncover why, publishing the results in Science of the Total Environment.

A total of 658 trees across five states were included in the study, making the results widely applicable to the region as a whole. For each of these trees, age, diameter and stand dynamics were recorded. The trees were organised into 52 plots, for each of which elevation, slope, aspect and geographical position were all measured. Other environmental variables such as temperature, precipitation, climatic variables were also collected with sulphur and nitrogen pollution deposition levels being of particularly interest due to their contribution to acid deposition through acid rain.

The results reported that over 75% of red spruce trees and 90% of plots showed an increase in growth since 2001.The causes for this recovery have been proposed to be reduced levels of acid rain and warmer temperatures from autumn to spring. The reduction in acid rain may be the result of the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act which has contributed to reduced pollution generally. And whilst climate change may be detrimental to the survival of some species milder winters may mean others, including the red spruce, benefit. This may be due to the red spruces ability to re-awaken and photosynthesise during warmer periods in the dormant season. The authors note however that if climate fluctuations become more severe the red spruce could easily join the list of species to lose out.


Read the full paper below:

Kosiba, A.M., Schaberg, P.G., Rayback, S.A. and Hawley, G.J., 2018. The surprising recovery of red spruce growth shows links to decreased acid deposition and elevated temperature. Science of The Total Environment, 637, pp.1480-1491.


Read the original press release here:


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("global warming" OR "climate change" OR "acid rain" OR "pollutants") AND ("picea rubens” OR "red spruce")

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