Soil moisture response to white ash mortality following emerald ash borer invasion

Wendy M. Robertson, Molly Robinett, Deborah G. McCullough

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Emerald ash borer (EAB) (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), an invasive forest insect first identified in southeastern Michigan in 2002, is established in at least 32 US states and three Canadian provinces. Ash (Fraxinus spp.) mortality rates in some forested areas exceed 90%, but to date, little is known about the potential effects of EAB-caused ash mortality on hydrological processes. More broadly, there is a need for information on the timing and magnitude of soil moisture response to species-specific mortality of overstory vegetation in deciduous forest systems. Soil moisture was examined in 28 forested sites where 0–100% of the white ash basal area (Fraxinus americana L.) was killed by EAB. Synoptic measurements of near-surface (0–6 cm depth) soil moisture were collected from 112 plots (18 m radius) within the sites. Three plots were also instrumented with soil moisture sensors at 10 and 25 cm depth to log hourly measurements from May to October. Synoptic data showing white ash mortality and soil moisture were positively correlated in the 34 plots with ≥ 5% mortality (by total basal area). In the intensively monitored plots, volumetric soil moisture declined from 37 to 16% between July and September where white ash mortality was low (0.6% of basal area killed), but remained near field capacity (~ 30%) throughout the monitoring period in the high mortality plot (8.6% of basal area killed), meriting further investigation to assess effects of white ash mortality on evapotranspiration and soil moisture dynamics in heterogeneous upland forests. Altered soil moisture may have implications for regrowth dynamics, infiltration/runoff partitioning, and nutrient cycling, but additional study to quantify the extent and duration of EAB-related ash mortality on hydrology at the plot and watershed scale is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number356
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • Agrilus planipennis
  • Disturbance hydrology
  • Emerald ash borer
  • Fraxinus americana
  • Invasive species
  • Soil moisture
  • White ash


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