Not dead yet: beech trees can survive nearly three decades in the aftermath phase of a deadly forest disease complex.
Management efforts often focus on preventing the arrival of destructive insects and pathogens or mitigating damage in forests experiencing heavy mortality. This need for management often abates after the mortality event due to reduced causal agent presence. However, the persistence of causal agents in beech bark disease (BBD)-impacted forests typically results in repeated tree mortality; this cycle has cascading impacts on forest biota and timber regeneration. We analyzed remeasurement data on BBD severity and tree death collected from 1988 to 2016 in disease aftermath stands in the Adirondack Mountains of New York to quantify the survival of BBD-affected trees over time. We found that while BBD severity has a strong influence on the yearly probability of tree survival, affected trees can survive for at least 28 years. However, the probability a tree will survive this long declined with more severe initial disease status regardless of how BBD severity changed over time. These findings could help inform management efforts to ameliorate the indirect impacts of BBD on forest wildlife populations, plant community diversity, and the regeneration of desirable timber species over time. Furthermore, our results underscore the continued need to manage BBD-induced beech mortality and disease-associated agents in aftermath stands.