A beech bark disease induced change in tree species composition influences forest floor acid-base chemistry

M. A. Arthur, K. C. Weathers, G. M. Lovett, M. P. Weand, W. C. Edd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Beech bark disease (BBD) has demonstrable ecosystem consequences for eastern US forests stemming from American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) mortality, often leading to increased dominance by its competitor, sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.). We hypothesized that this BBD-induced shift in tree species composition leads to changes in soil acid-base chemistry, mediated through differences in leaf litter chemistry of the two species. Using a sequence of plots representing the progression of the disease in the Catskill Mountains, NY, USA, we examined the influence of tree species composition shift on soil chemistry. The BBD impact on tree species composition was confounded by variability in substrate (or nonexchangeable soil) calcium (Ca). While substrate Ca explained much of the variation in acid-base chemistry, increasing BBD was associated with increasing forest floor exchangeable Ca, sum of base cations, base saturation, cation-exchange capacity, and decreasing hydrogen. An apparent threshold effect of substrate Ca on sugar maple litter Ca concentration suggests that underlying soil Ca availability may contribute to the spatial extent and timeframe of BBD-induced shifts in species composition. The species compositional shift is a mechanism contributing to a vegetation effect on soil acid-base status and may partially counteract soil acidification in this acid deposition impacted region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-882
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support for this work came from the National Science Foundation (grants DEB 9981503 and DEB 0444895), the US Department of Agriculture (award 04CA11242343074), and the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry. We thank Beth Blankenship for her support with graphics and editing. Many people contributed to the field and laboratory work for this manuscript; we especially thank Millie Hamilton, Jake Griffin, and Brent Mellen. Statistical support was provided by Joshua Lambert, Statistical Research Coordinator in the University of Kentucky Department of Statistics. We would also like to acknowledge the late Ross Fitzhugh for his critically important contributions to this work. This is publication No. 16-09-075 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director. This work is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis project under accession No. 0220128.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Canadian Science Publishing. All rights reserved.


  • Acer saccharum
  • Base saturation
  • Calcium
  • Cation-exchange capacity
  • Fagus grandifolia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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