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Fraxinus nigra (black ash) dieback in Minnesota: Regional variation and potential contributing factors

Formally Refereed
Authors: Brian J. Palik, Michael E. Ostry, Robert C. Venette, Ebrahim Abdela
Year: 2011
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Forest Ecology and Managemment. 261(1): 128-135.


Extensive tree dieback is a recurrent issue in many regions. Crown dieback of Fraxinus nigra Marsh. (black ash; brown ash) in the northeastern and north central United States is an example. F. nigra is a widely distributed hardwood that is often the dominant species in wetland forests from Manitoba to Newfoundland and West Virginia to Indiana. Widespread crown dieback of F. nigra has been noted in many regions, but there are few quantitative assessments of dieback extent or relationship to potential causes. Most F. nigra dieback episodes are not associated with specific disease or pest agents. Drought, excessive soil moisture, cohort senescense, and road influences, have all been suggested as potential contributing factors. Our objectives were to (1) quantify variable dieback across northern Minnesota, a region described as having extensive dieback, (2) determine the relationship between dieback and site moisture, (3) relate dieback to tree age/size distributions, and (4) assess whether dieback was related to road proximity. Given the increasing threat of Agrilus planipennis (emerald ash borer) in the region, it is important to know the current health status of F. nigra populations before widespread infestation occurs. Many stands in our study exhibited high incidences of crown dieback. However, the incidence of dieback was variable across the region. Spatial variability in dieback was associated with site wetland characteristics; more dieback occurred on jurisdictional wetlands and on sites with a higher wetness index and a deeper depth to a perching layer. Dieback was also positively correlated with mean stand diameter, and tree diameters were generally correlated with age, suggesting that stands with larger and older individuals experienced more dieback. Cohort senescence is a possible explanation for this trend. Finally, dieback occurred with higher frequency nearer to roads. The road influence could be related to hydrological alterations or perhaps toxicity from road deicing salt. The fact that dieback is more severe close to roads may contribute to a general perception that black ash dieback is more severe throughout the region than our study suggests. Collectively, our results indicate that the healthiest F. nigra stands in our study region are likely to be younger and located on relatively drier sites and farther from roads, compared to stands with significant crown dieback.


black ash, brown ash, Fraxinus nigra, crown dieback, lowland hardwood, forest health


Palik, Brian J.; Ostry, Michael E.; Venette, Robert C.; Abdela, E. 2011. Fraxinus nigra (black ash) dieback in Minnesota: Regional variation and potential contributing factors. Forest Ecology and Managemment 261(1): 128-135.