Evidence of damage from exotic invasive earthworm activity was highly correlated to sugar maple dieback in the Upper Great Lakes region

Abstract

Sugar maple (Acer sacharrum Marsh.) in the western Upper Great Lakes region has recently been reported with increased crown dieback symptoms, prompting investigation of the dieback etiology across the region. Evaluation of sugar maple dieback from 2009 to 2012 across a 120 plot network in Upper Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota has indicated that forest floor disturbance impacts from exotic invasive earthworms was significantly related to maple dieback. Other plot level variables tested showed significant relationships among dieback and increased soil carbon, decreased soil manganese, and reduced herbaceous cover, each of which was also be correlated to earthworm activity. Relationships between possible causal factors and recent growth trends and seedling counts were also examined. Maple regeneration counts were not correlated with the amount of dieback. The recent mean radial increment was significantly correlated with various soil features and nutrients. This study presents significant evidence correlating sugar maple dieback in the western Upper Great Lakes region with earthworm activity, and highlights the need for considering the impacts of non-native earthworm on soil properties when assessing sugar maple health and productivity.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by GMO, LLC and the USDA Forest Service–Forest Health Monitoring Program (Project NC-EM-B-10-02). The foresters at American Forest Management, Inc, the USDA Forest Service, and Michigan DNR were invaluable in their assistance in locating sugar maple stands with and without dieback. Eric Lilleskov, USFS, provided us with the earthworm impact rating scale. We also are indebted to Michael Amacher at the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for his assistance with soil processing. Thanks to Christopher Webster, Michigan Tech, for providing use of the tree ring reader. Dana Richter, Eric Lilleskov, Robert Heyd, Joseph O’Brien, and Manfred Mielke provided many early comments and assistance throughout the course of this project. Finally, thanks to the field technicians that helped core trees and process samples: Sally Sanderson, Amy Berns, James Klapperich, Chad Fortin, Christine Jones, Melissa Porter, Donavon Young, Will Schultz, Eric Hollenbeck, Andrew Beebe, Sunshine Love, Alex Larsen, Kurt Lehman, and Jonathon Malette.

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Correspondence to Tara L. Bal.

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Bal, T.L., Storer, A.J. & Jurgensen, M.F. Evidence of damage from exotic invasive earthworm activity was highly correlated to sugar maple dieback in the Upper Great Lakes region. Biol Invasions 20, 151–164 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-017-1523-0

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Keywords

  • Sugar maple
  • Crown dieback
  • Earthworms
  • Forest health
  • Soil disturbance