Quantcast

A Mysterious Leaf Disease Is Killing Beech Trees—and It's Spreading

If you've seen lovers' initials carved in a tree, it's probably a beech. The iconic species—known for its smooth, delicate bark—is not just a favorite canvas for bark carvers, they provide shelter and food for a large range of wildlife, including birds, squirrels and bears.

But scientists are raising flags on a mysterious, deadly and rapidly spreading beech leaf disease that's been described as "an emerging forest epidemic."


The disease (Fagus grandifolia) was first discovered in 2012 on beech trees in northeast Ohio and has since spread to forests in 10 counties in Ohio, eight counties in Pennsylvania and five counties in Ontario, Canada, according to a study published last month in the journal Forest Pathology.

Early symptoms of the disease are characterized by dark green banding on the leaves between the veins. Later symptoms are characterized by solidly darkened leaves that are shrunken and crinkled. The symptoms then seem to progress through the buds, causing them to fall off and produce no new leaves. The affected tree eventually dies.

Beech leaf disease symptoms include dark banding between the veins in early stages, followed by crinkling leaves. Forest Pathology, Ohio State

As the North American beech is native to the eastern United States, the researchers "fear this disease has the potential to drastically alter the Eastern deciduous forests of the United States on its own and through potential compounding disease effects," the study states.

The study was authored by researchers and naturalists from Ohio State University and metroparks in northeastern Ohio.

"It's hard at this point to say where this disease will go, but it has all the hallmarks of something like emerald ash borer or sudden oak death, threats to trees that start slowly and quickly pick up speed. We seem to be in that rapid expansion phase right now," senior researcher Pierluigi "Enrico" Bonello, an Ohio State professor of plant pathology, said in a university press release.

For instance, in one Ohio county the disease advanced at 1,250 acres a year between 2012 to 2016 alone, according to the press release.

These startling tree deaths could also come with a heavy price tag, per the release:

"If just half of American beech trees in Ohio were lost, it would come at environmental costs of approximately $225 million, according to an estimate in the new paper that takes into account various factors, including the trees' role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, furnishing habitat for wildlife, aiding in water purification, providing aesthetic and recreational value as well as other ecosystem services."

The study also warns that the disease could affect foreign species as symptoms were found in European and Asian beeches in nurseries in northeastern Ohio.

Scientists are not sure what's causing beech leaf disease, but Ohio State University researchers suggested that a microbe rather than an insect could be the culprit.

"We're really not 100 percent sure that it's a microbe causing this, but the symptoms resemble those of other plant diseases caused by microorganisms," graduate student Carrie Ewing and lead author of the new paper said in the press release. "There are no infestations or boreholes, or chewing of the leaves like you'd typically see if the disease was caused by an insect."

Major efforts are underway to determine the causal agent. Molecular techniques are being used to determine if there are any microbial differences between affected and unaffected beech trees.

Other researchers have suggested that a nematode could be to blame.

Unfortunately, there is no record of beech trees that have developed a resistance or have recovered from the disease, according to Constance Hausman, an ecologist with Cleveland Metroparks and one of the authors of the paper.

"Beech trees are a significant food and habitat resource for wildlife. We can't treat or manage our beech forests effectively if we don't know what is causing the decline," she said in the press release.

Sponsored
Prince William and British naturalist David Attenborough attend converse during the World Economic Forum annual meeting, on January 22 in Davos, Switzerland. Fabrice Cofferini /AFP / Getty Images

Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.

During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.

Read More Show Less
EV charging lot in Anaheim, California. dj venus / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Electric vehicle sales took off in 2018, with a record two million units sold around the world, according to a new Deloitte analysis.

What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Teenager Alex Weber and friends collected nearly 40,000 golf balls hit into the ocean from a handful of California golf courses. Alex Weber / CC BY-ND

By Matthew Savoca

Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.

As a scientist researching marine plastic pollution, I thought I had seen a lot. Then, early in 2017, I heard from Alex Weber, a junior at Carmel High School in California.

Read More Show Less
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Read More Show Less
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Read More Show Less
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Read More Show Less
MarioGuti / iStock / Getty Images

By Patrick Rogers

If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Read More Show Less