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The complex relationship between climate and sugar maple health: Climate change implications in Vermont for a key northern hardwood species

Formally Refereed
Authors: Evan M. Oswald, Jennifer Pontius, Shelly A. Rayback, Paul G. Schaberg, Sandra H. Wilmot, Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux
Year: 2018
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Forest Ecology and Management


This study compared 141 ecologically relevant climate metrics to field assessments of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) canopy condition across Vermont, USA from 1988 to 2012. After removing the influence of disturbance events during this time period to isolate the impact of climate, we identified five climate metrics that were significantly related to sugar maple crown condition. While three of these are monthly summary metrics commonly used in climate analyses (minimum April, August and October temperatures), two are novel metrics designed to capture extreme climate events (periods of unusual warmth in January and August). The proportion of climate-driven variability in canopy condition is comparable to the proportion accounted for by defoliating pests and other disturbance events. This indicates that climate conditions, though rarely included in sugar maple decline studies, may be of equal importance as more traditionally studied stress agents. Modeled across the state, results indicate that changes in historical climatic conditions have negatively impacted sugar maple health over the 25 year study period, and are likely to degrade further over time. Climate projections under a low emissions scenario indicated that by 2071 55% of sugar maple across the state would likely experience moderate to severe climate-driven stress relative to historic baselines, increasing to 84% under a high emissions scenario. However, geographic variability in projected climate impacts indicates that while conditions for sugar maple will likely deteriorate across the state, climate refugia should also be available to maintain sugar maple in spite of changing climatic conditions. Considering the predominant role of sugar maple in Vermont's economy and culture, managing this resource into the future could pose a considerable challenge.


Climate change, Acer saccharum, Crown condition, Crown health, Forest decline, Forest management


Oswald, Evan M.; Pontius, Jennifer; Rayback, Shelly A.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Wilmot, Sandra H.; Dupigny-Giroux, Lesley-Ann. 2018. The complex relationship between climate and sugar maple health: Climate change implications in Vermont for a key northern hardwood species. Forest Ecology and Management. 422: 303-312.