A study published in the journal Wetlands documents an invasion happening in the Adirondacks: the black spruce, tamarack, and other boreal species are being overcome by trees normally found in warmer, more temperate forests. Ultimately, researchers from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) predict that these invaders could overtake a variety of northern species, eliminating trees that have long been characteristic of wetlands like Shingle Shanty Preserve in the Adirondacks.
"Shingle Shanty Preserve was an ideal location to conduct this research," said Stephen Langdon, Shingle Shanty Director and principal investigator. "Peatlands, like those at Shingle Shanty Preserve, are some of the best protected, most-intact examples of the ecosystem around the world at this latitude: a fact that makes them a critical resource for understanding the biological response to climate change and nitrogen deposition." Langdon has 25 years of experience in the Adirondacks working in conservation from shovel-in-hand trail maintenance to biodiversity research with government and private organizations.
"These are hard-earned data," Langdon said. "The result of weeks of bushwhacking through buggy bogs and thick black spruce forests."
Researchers collected data on vascular species, including their composition, environmental drivers, and ages in 50 plots spread throughout a nearly 1000-acre portion of the Preserve.
"A peatland complex of this size at its southern geographical limit in the eastern U.S. is highly significant ecologically and for its conservation values," said Don Leopold, ESF Distinguished Teaching Professor and research collaborator. Leopold has studied peatlands throughout the U.S. for the past 35 years.
Large peatlands, like Shingle Shanty Preserve near their southern range limits in eastern North America, are particularly important for biodiversity conservation because they are nested in a relatively intact biome and they are a refuge for many disjunct boreal species at their southern range limits, like the threatened spruce grouse. The biodiversity in these peatlands is threatened by direct modification (e.g., drainage for agriculture) and by invasions of woody species linked to human-caused environmental changes such as climate warming and atmospheric nitrogen deposition
"This research should serve as a wake-up call, as it provides an early warning that even the most remote and protected boreal peatlands may be lost at their southern range limits, in potentially just over a few decades, due to this ongoing and abundant colonization by temperate tree species -a process likely to be dramatically accelerated by continuously warming climate and fertilizing effects of nitrogen emissions," said Martin Dovciak, ESF Associate Professor and research collaborator. Dovciak has studied forest dynamics in a variety of forested ecosystems in North America and Europe over the last 25 years.