The distribution of beech leaf disease and the causal agents of beech bark disease (Cryptoccocus fagisuga, Neonectria faginata, N. ditissima) in forests surrounding lake Erie and future implications.
Over the past century, beech bark disease has dramatically altered the composition and structure of stands containing American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Management of beech bark disease has focused on reducing beech thickets and identifying resistant trees in aftermath forests. Beech leaf disease is a recently detected invasive disease, now also affecting beech forests. In 2019, a plot network was established in central North America to examine the extent of beech leaf disease spread and the severity of effects on trees and forests. Here, data from this plot network was used to determine the extent to which American beech is exposed to beech leaf disease, beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga), and beech bark disease (C. fagisuga and Neonectria spp. complex) in forests surrounding the Great Lakes in southwestern Ontario, northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and western New York. Beech leaf disease and scale were found to be well established, not only among sites but also in the different canopy layers. Beech bark disease was present, but occurrence was low. Pest accumulation differed between overstory and sapling layers. Beech leaf disease was the primary pest of saplings while both beech leaf disease and beech scale dominated in the overstory. Forest composition was similar throughout the study range; American beech, sugar maple, red maple, and white ash were abundant and common in the sapling and seedling layer. Few invasive plants were evident among saplings and seedlings. Sugar maple and red maple will likely fill small canopy gaps following beech decline or mortality. Intervention should be considered in stands with potential for increasing tree diversity or promoting beech leaf disease-resistant American beech trees to the overstory. New strategies are needed for beech conservation along with research to determine the extent of beech leaf disease resistance in American beech.