Nitrogen cycling responses to simulated emerald ash borer infestation in Fraxinus nigra-dominated wetlands

  • Joshua C. DavisEmail author
  • Joseph P. Shannon
  • Matthew J. Van Grinsven
  • Nicholas W. Bolton
  • Joseph W. Wagenbrenner
  • Randall K. Kolka
  • Thomas G. Pypker


Understanding short- and long-term responses of forest nutrient cycling to disturbance is vital to predicting future forest function. Mortality of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) due to emerald ash borer [EAB, Agrilus planipennis (Coleoptera: Buprestidae)] invasion is likely to alter ecosystem processes within infested stands throughout North America. In particular, the loss of Fraxinus nigra (black ash) from F. nigra-dominated swamps may significantly impact the biogeochemical cycles within these ecologically important wetlands. A multiyear manipulative study of nine F. nigra-dominated wetlands in Michigan, USA was undertaken to investigate the potential response of above- and belowground biogeochemical processes to EAB. Short- and long-term changes to site conditions following infestation were emulated by respectively girdling or felling F. nigra saplings and overstory trees. Following disturbance, a short-term reduction in demand for soil nitrogen (N) by dominant canopy species was hypothesized to result in increased soil N availability and a subsequent increase in N uptake by retained species. Though reduced total N return via litterfall indicated decreased demand, this resulted in minimal impacts to soil N availability following treatment. Additionally, increased N uptake by co-dominant Acer rubrum (red maple) and Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch) was not observed; these combined responses may be attributable to increased immobilization of N by soil microbes. In the 3 years following treatment, the response of foliar characteristics of residual stems—including decreased N concentrations and increased leaf mass per area—appeared to be driven primarily by aboveground conditions and a change from shade- to sun-acclimated leaves. While increased microbial immobilization of N may reduce long-term changes in site fertility, these responses may also limit the potential for short-term positive growth responses of extant woody vegetation. In the longer term, replacing N-rich F. nigra leaf litter with that of A. rubrum and B. alleghaniensis, which have lower N content, is likely to have important feedback effects on soil processes.


Soil nitrogen Black ash Forested wetlands Invasive species Disturbance ecology 



Rodney Chimner, Andrew Burton, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript for which the authors are thankful. The authors would also like to thank Lynette Potvin, Evan Kane, Jonathon Bontrager, Daniel Hutchinson, Nicholas Schreiner, Jarrod Nelson, Erica Jones, Leah Harrison, and Thomas McDade for their contributions and assistance in the field and laboratory.


Financial support for this project was provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (DW-12-92429101-0) in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Center for Water and Society and Ecosystem Science Center at Michigan Technological University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 213 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian-Mason School of ConservationGeorge Mason UniversityFront RoyalUSA
  2. 2.School of Forest Resources and Environmental ScienceMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth, Environmental, and Geographical SciencesNorthern Michigan UniversityMarquetteUSA
  4. 4.USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research StationArcataUSA
  5. 5.Center for Research on Ecosystem ChangeUSDA Forest Service, Northern Research StationGrand RapidsUSA
  6. 6.Department of Natural Resource SciencesThompson Rivers UniversityKamloopsCanada

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