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Acid rain causing decline in sugar maples, say researchers

Acid rain, the environmental consequence of burning fossil fuels, running factories and driving cars, has altered soils and reduced the number of sugar maple trees growing in the Northeast, according to a new study led by Cornell University researchers.

The sugar maple is the most economically valuable tree species in the eastern United States because of its high-priced lumber, syrup and tourist-attracting fall colors.

The study, whose lead author, Stephanie Juice '04, was an undergraduate when the research was conducted, suggests that because acid rain makes the soil more acidic, unfavorable conditions are created for sugar maples. In acidic soils, sugar maples produce fewer seedlings that survive and mature, and more adult trees die, the researchers found. They drew these conclusions after adding nutrients to soil in a test plot and reproducing the favorable soil conditions that existed prior to 20th century industrial pollution. The result: Sugar maples on the plot rebounded dramatically.

The study provides "the most conclusive evidence to date" that the decline of sugar maples is linked to the effects of acid rain produced by human activity, said Timothy Fahey, professor of forest ecology at Cornell and co-author of the study, which is published in the May issue of Ecology. Juice wrote the main part of the paper as part of her senior thesis.

"The research addresses how a long-term, human-caused change in the environment is affecting sugar maples, which are valuable both ecologically and economically as one of the dominant species in our region," said Juice, who now works for the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Milbrook, N.Y., as a project assistant and is applying to the Peace Corps for next year.

The research was conducted at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), a 3,160-hectare reserve near North Woodstock, N.H., where scientists have measured soil composition for the past 50 years. The scientists added nutrient
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Source:Cornell University News Service


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