Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Using changes in basal area increments to map relative risk of HWA impacts on hemlock growth across the Northeastern U.S.A.

Abstract

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a critical species in eastern North American forests, providing a multitude of ecological and societal benefits while also acting as a foundation species in many habitats. In recent decades, however, hemlock has become threatened by hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA; Adelges tsugae), an invasive sap-feeding insect from Asia. In addition to causing the more commonly assessed metrics of foliar damage, crown decline, and hemlock mortality, HWA also decreases hemlock growth and productivity. Dendrochronological methods provide a more nuanced assessment of HWA impacts on hemlock by quantifying variable rates of radial-growth decline that follow incipient infestation. This information is necessary to better understand the variable response of hemlock to HWA, and identify the characteristics of stands with the highest potential for tolerance and recovery. To quantify decline, we calculated changes in hemlock yearly radial growth using basal area increment (BAI) measurements to identify periods of growth decline from 41 hemlock stands across New England covering a range of infestation density, duration and hemlock vigor. The onset of growth decline periods were predominantly associated with either HWA infestation or drought. However, the magnitude of change in BAI values pre- and post-decline was significantly related to HWA infestation density and crown impacts, indicating that radial growth metrics can be used to identify locations where HWA infestations have incited significant reductions in hemlock health and productivity. Additional site characteristics (slope, hillshade, and January minimum temperatures), were also significantly associated with hemlock health and productivity decline rates. In order to develop a model to identify stands likely to tolerate HWA infestation, these metrics were used to build a logit model to differentiate high- and low-BAI-reduction stands with 78% accuracy. Independent validation of the model applied to 15 hemlock sites in Massachusetts classified high and low BAI reduction classes with 80% accuracy. The model was then applied to GIS layers for New England and eastern New York to produce a spatially-explicit model that predicts the likelihood of severe hemlock growth declines if/when HWA arrives. Currently 26% of the region's hemlock stands fall into this high risk category. Under projected climate change, this could increase to 43%. This model, along with knowledge of current HWA infestation borders, can be used to direct management efforts of potentially tolerant hemlock stands in eastern North America, with the intention of minimizing HWA-induced hemlock mortality.