The effects of shade, fertilizer, and pruning on eastern hemlock trees and hemlock woolly adelgid.
Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), Adelges tsugae Annand, an invasive insect native to the Pacific Northwest and Asia, is responsible for widespread health decline and mortality of native hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) in the eastern United States. Shading and fertilizer has been found to affect the survival and health of both HWA and hemlocks. These abiotic factors have been studied separately but not in combination. In this three year study, eastern hemlock trees (1-2 m tall) were treated with pruning, fertilizer, and shade to determine their effects on hemlock tree health and HWA survival and density. Shade cloths were erected over individual trees, granulated fertilizer was applied, and trees were pruned annually. The total number of HWA were counted during the sistens and progrediens adult stages on the low, mid, and high branches on the north, east, south, and west sides of each tree for three years. Survival of aestivating sistens was recorded in artificially, naturally, and unshaded hemlocks. The mean of percent tips alive, branches alive, and foliage density was used to calculate a hemlock health index (scale of 0-100). Shade cloth reduced solar radiation to the trees to levels similar to a naturally-forested hemlock canopy, but did not alter temperature. Trees exposed to shade alone and shade plus fertilizer maintained the greatest HWA density. On unshaded trees, branches on the west side of the tree had lower HWA densities and branches high on the tree had the lowest HWA densities. Pruning plus fertilizer and shading plus fertilizer reduced tree health. Shaded trees had reduced branchlet new growth length. Survival of summer aestivating sistens was nearly twice the survival under artificially- and naturally-shaded trees compared to unshaded trees. There was an inverse density-dependent survival response for aestivating HWA under artificially-shaded and unshaded trees but not naturally-shaded trees. Unshaded hemlock trees had lower HWA densities due to increased mortality of summer aestivating sistens. Unshaded trees had better health and longer new growth branchlets due to increased exposure to solar radiation and lower HWA densities. Silvicultural thinning of hemlocks in forest stands could increase direct sunlight reaching the trees and help decrease HWA densities and improve hemlock health.