Aspen fading fast

September 19, 2009

By hammersmith

[Source: Az Daily Sun] – The soft sound of quaking aspen leaves trembling on the slightest breeze is the sound of summer in the mountains of the West. But that sound has become softer, and researchers believe the color of fall may be fading, too. This because of an extraordinarily rapid dieback of the aspen, a phenomenon biologists are calling SAD, or Sudden Aspen Decline.

In northern Arizona, Forest Service officials are reporting some 60 percent to 95 percent mortality in the low-elevation aspen groves, around 7,000 feet, of the Kaibab and Coconino national forests. Among the researchers diagnosing the sick trees is Northern Arizona University forestry graduate student Tom Zegler.

“We are concerned because it’s a tree that brings people into the woods. Its aesthetic values are high; it is one of the only trees in the West that turns colors in the fall. Aspen also have an extremely high ecological value. Per acre they provide for a greater diversity of wildlife than the sea of ponderosa pine trees around them. And because aspen allow more diffused light to reach the forest floor than other trees in northern Arizona, a greater diversity of understory plants can grow beneath them.”

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