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Regional patterns of declining butternut (Juglans cinerea L.) suggest site characteristics for restoration

Formally Refereed
Authors: Randall S. Morin, Kurt W. Gottschalk, Michael E. Ostry, Andrew M. Liebhold
Year: 2018
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Ecology and Evolution


Butternut trees dying from a canker disease were first reported in southwestern Wisconsin in 1967. Since then, the disease has caused extensive mortality of butternut throughout its North American range. The objectives of this study were to quantify changes in butternut populations and density across its range and identify habitat characteristics of sites where butternut is surviving in order to locate regions for potential butternut restoration. The natural range of butternut (Juglans cinerea L.) extends over a large region of eastern N. America encompassing New Brunswick south to North Carolina, north to Minnesota, and southwest to Missouri. Despite the species' large range, it is typically not a common tree, comprising a relatively minor component of several different forest types. We evaluated change in butternut abundance and volume from current and historic data from 21 states in the eastern United States. We related abundance and volume at two time periods to a suite of ecological and site factors in order to characterize site conditions where butternut survived. We also assessed the current level of butternut mortality across its range. Since the 1980s, the number of butternut trees and butternut volume have decreased by 58% and 44%, respectively, across its US range. Substantial relative decreases in tree numbers and volume occurred in most ecoregion sections. Five environmental variables were found to be significant predictors of butternut presence. The potential impacts of butternut canker are particularly acute as the canker pathogen invasion pushes a rare tree species toward extinction, at least at a local scale. Based on the results presented here, large-diameter maple/beech/birch stands in dry, upland sites in eastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and upstate New York appear to offer the most favorable conditions for butternut growth and survival and thus may be the best stands for planting resistant butternut trees.


butternut, Juglans cinerea, Ophiognomonia clavigignenti-juglandacearum, plant disease, restoration, species distributions


Morin, Randall S.; Gottschalk, Kurt W.; Ostry, Michael E.; Liebhold, Andrew M. 2018. Regional patterns of declining butternut (Juglans cinerea L.) suggest site characteristics for restoration. Ecology and Evolution. 8(1): 546-559.