Oak Regeneration In Some Ohio Forests Is Failing, Researchers Find

ATHENS, Ohio -- Oak trees in some Southeastern Ohio forests are failing to reproduce on their own, even in areas that scientists consider fertile, according to a new study by researchers at Ohio University. This could mean that without human intervention, oak-dominated forests in the area may be overtaken by different tree species, causing an ecological change unprecedented in modern times.

Scientists studied oak regeneration in several mixed-oak forests in Southeastern Ohio, a type of forest that is common throughout Central Appalachia and the mid-Atlantic states. Recent studies at Ohio University and elsewhere had indicated that the number of oak seedlings in these forests was low compared to the number of mature oaks in the forest canopy, also called the overstory. Forest ecologists had theorized that oak regeneration may not be as serious in areas high in light and low in moisture, conditions that are amiable to oak growth.

But a study presented Aug. 14 at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Albuquerque, N.M., seems to contradict that theory.

"It has been thought that, barring any major disturbance such as fire or biotic influences such as an insect infestation, oak may be experiencing reasonable regeneration on sites of high light and low moisture," said Brian McCarthy, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology at Ohio University and lead author of the study.

"Interestingly, when we brought the light, moisture and regeneration data together, there was no obvious trend toward improved oak regeneration on well-lit, dry sites," he added. "Some forest managers had hoped that there might be a refuge or a niche where oak could still survive in the forested landscape, but our studies suggest that oak regeneration doesn't look hopeful anywhere."

The cause for alarm, McCarthy said, is that if oak seedlings aren't present in sufficient numbers, the mature oaks

Contact: Kelli Whitlock
Ohio University

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