Changes in the regional abundance of hemlock associated with the invasion of hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae Annand)
Since its introduction, the non-native hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) has spread to infest hemlock (Tsuga spp.) in at least 18 states in the eastern USA. Previous studies have documented highly variable rates of hemlock mortality among infested stands making it difficult to estimate regional impacts. Here data from the US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis program collected from 432 eastern U.S. counties reveals several surprising and conflicting regional patterns. First, median live and dead hemlock basal area has generally increased over the last two decades across the eastern U.S. This has generally been the case in both infested and uninfested counties. Second, the median percentage of hemlock which is alive has decreased over the past ~20 years, again in both infested and uninfested counties. Third, the ages of infestations are negatively correlated with the percentage of live hemlock, as might be expected given the known impact adelgids can have on a stand through time; however this relationship depends on the exclusion of uninfested counties, as counties infested >12 years and uninfested counties have similar percentages of live hemlock. Combined, these data suggest increasing tree density associated with the past century of reforestation and succession in the eastern U.S. may currently be overwhelming the negative impacts of the adelgid at the regional scale, however, the long-term stability of this situation is not known, and data from long-infested counties suggest the landscape may be at a "tipping point".