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The Forest of Unintended Consequences: Anthropogenic Actions Trigger the Rise and Fall of Black Cherry

Formally Refereed
Authors: Alejandro Royo, Lance Vickers, Robert Long, Todd Ristau, Scott Stoleson, Susan L. Stout
Year: 2021
Type: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: BioScience


The twentieth century confluence of clear-cutting, deer overabundance, and rising nitrogen deposition favored dominance by the shadeintolerant, unpalatable, and nitrogen-demanding black cherry (Prunus serotina) throughout the Allegheny Plateau of the eastern United States. The abundance of this species conferred unique and valuable ecological and economic benefits that shaped regional biodiversity and societies. Sustaining these values is increasingly difficult because black cherry, seemingly inexplicably, has experienced diminished establishment, growth, and survival in the twenty-first century. In the present article, we chronicle the change and assess underlying drivers through a literature review and new analyses. We found negative plant–soil microbial feedback loops and lowered nitrogen deposition are biologically, temporally, and geographically consistent with observed declines. The evidence suggests that black cherry dynamics are the unintended consequence of actions and policies ostensibly unconnected to forests. We suggest that these shifts are a bellwether of impending changes to forests, economies, and ownership patterns regionally and beyond.


Allegheny hardwoods, conspecific negative density dependence, climate, nitrogen, Clean Air Act


Royo, Alejandro A; Vickers, Lance A; Long, Robert P; Ristau, Todd E; Stoleson, Scott H; Stout, Susan L. 2021. The Forest of Unintended Consequences: Anthropogenic Actions Trigger the Rise and Fall of Black Cherry. BioScience. 71(7): 683-696.