Ash Tree die-off focus of grant in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park has awarded the 2018 Shenandoah National Park Trust Research Grant to a team from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The project will look at forest changes related to the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB), which kills more than 99 percent of the ash trees it inhabits. Forests in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) and the surrounding region are already being impacted by this forest pest.

“Understanding how our forests will change with the widespread die-off of ash trees will help us prioritize our resources to manage invasive plants, hazard trees along Skyline Drive, and most importantly the public’s connection to and acceptance of the park’s changing forests.” said Jennifer Flynn, Superintendent at Shenandoah National Park.

While EAB is new to the region, it is not the first invasive to cause a wave of tree mortality. Over the past century, invasive insect pest and pathogen outbreaks have resulted in significant declines of multiple native tree species, including the American chestnut (affected by chestnut blight), flowering dogwood (affected by dogwood anthracnose pathogen), American and slippery elms (affected by Dutch elm disease), eastern hemlock (affected by hemlock woolly adelgid), and all species of oak (affected by gypsy moth). Each of these invasive-driven waves of tree mortality has substantially impacted forests.

Drs. Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, Alan Tepley, and Iara Larcher will model changes in the tree canopy from ash die-off, which is likely to bring more invasive exotic plants among other changes to the forest ecology.

“Invasive insect pests and pathogens that kill trees can have dramatic impacts on our forests. One such invasive insect, the emerald ash borer, is expected to kill essentially all of the ash trees in Shenandoah National Park over the next several years.” said Anderson-Teixeira, ecologist and leader of CTFS-ForestGEO Ecosystems & Climate Initiative at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“This grant will allow us to understand the potential short- and long-term impacts on forest health and to help park visitors process this unsettling event.”

“Our donors support a research project in Shenandoah National Park annually.” said Susan Sherman, executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Trust. “These philanthropic investments year-in and year-out help advance our park’s understanding of the resources at risk, and provide a premier ‘living laboratory’ opportunity for researchers from across the country.”

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