Northern Research Station News Releases

Decline in black cherry regeneration may herald wider forest change

90 year old black cherry trees in a Pennsylvania forest.  USDA Forest Service photo. Madison, WI, March 24, 2021 - In the heart of black cherry’s native range, including a part of the Allegheny Hardwoods that bills itself as the “Black Cherry Capital of the World,” the tree’s regeneration, growth and survival have all been declining for more than a decade. In a new analysis, a team of USDA Forest Service and University of Missouri scientists identify likely factors behind the tree’s decline and, more significantly, conclude that black cherry may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of change in eastern deciduous forests.

Scientists used a combination of synthesis of existing research and new analyses to examine the leading hypotheses for black cherry’s regeneration failure. They conclude that the two factors that are most likely contributing to declining abundance of black cherry are an increase in pathogens and less nitrogen deposition in soil.

“We began this project wanting to narrow down the potential drivers behind the change in black cherry; what we found is that this may be a story of change on a much bigger scale, with mixed species forests in the coming century likely to reflect the response of many individual tree species to changing environmental conditions, biotic stressors, and their interactions,” said Alejandro Royo, a research ecologist with the Northern Research Station and the study’s lead author.

The study, “The Forest of Unintended Consequences: Anthropogenic Actions Trigger the Rise and Fall of Black Cherry,” is available at: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/62065

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The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

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Last modified: March 24, 2021