Sugar Maples at Risk With Climate Change and Less Snow

Sugar maple trees in winter illustrate a study by Graduate Center Professor Andrew Reinmann
The U.S. northern hardwood forests, famous for delicious maple syrup and stunning fall colors, will likely see less and less snow in the next century due to climate change. A recent study led by Professor Andrew Reinmann (GC/Hunter; Earth and Environmental Sciences/Geology, researcher at The Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center, predicts that without the layer of snow to insulate and protect roots, hardwood forests will experience significantly reduced tree growth.

Head shot photo of Professor Andrew Reinmann
Professor Andrew Reinmann

The researchers, including colleagues from Boston University and the Southwest Watershed Research Center, studied sugar maple trees in an experimental forest in New Hampshire. For five years they removed from the ground the early winter snowpack, which insulates soil and tree roots, and measured the effect on tree growth. Their results appear in Global Change Biology.

Reinmann discussed his work in an interview with The Graduate Center.


Graduate Center: What did you find in this study?

Reinmann: Our models show that the area of forests across the northeastern U.S. that experience insulating winter snowpack could decline by 95 percent by 2100. When we reduce snow cover to simulate these projected changes, growth of sugar maple trees declines by 40 percent within just two years. These growth rates remained suppressed over the following three years, and we did not observe any rebound in growth one year after the experiment stopped.

GC: How could these changes affect the people living in these areas?

Reinman: It seems that warmer winters with less snow might adversely impact the ecosystems in these regions, which are important socially, economically, and culturally. Declines in snow could harm the skiing and snowmobiling industries. Declines in growth, health and competitiveness of sugar maple trees could hinder the maple products industry and the tourism associated with fall foliage.

GC: How did you find yourself studying environmental change in northern forests?

Reinman: For decades now I have been hiking, skiing, and paddling my way through the Adirondacks, northern New England, southeastern Canada, and the maritime provinces. I have long been interested in understanding how human-caused environmental change might be altering these ecosystems, and in 2008 I jumped at the chance to pursue a Ph.D. in Dr. Pamela Templer’s lab at Boston University doing winter climate change research in northern forests.

GC: What questions are you investigating now?

Reinman: I am studying the interactions between changes in winter and the changes in growing season. In 2013 I worked with Dr. Templer and her lab to establish the Climate Change Across Seasons Experiment. Our early results suggest that the adverse effects of winter soil freeze and thaw cycles on tree growth and physiology are not completely offset by warmer and longer growing seasons. We hope to keep this experiment running well i

Submitted on: JAN 3, 2019

Category: Earth and Environmental Sciences | Faculty | Research Studies