Baseball Bats, Bunnies, and Christmas Trees: Exploring the Benefits of Ecosystems

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

For many families the summer to do list must include a day at the ballpark: soaking in the summer sun, enjoying a juicy hotdog, sharing high-fives following the crack of the bat marking a dramatic home team “walk off” victory (if they don’t win it’s a shame). That distinctive “crack” is the product of solid contact between ball and hardwood bat. For many players, the wood of choice is white ash (Fraxinus americana), a native of the forests of eastern and central North America.

Outside of big league ball players, the white ash has also caught the attention of researchers as an indicator of forest health in the face of terrestrial acidification. More commonly known as acid rain, terrestrial acidification occurs when sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate ammonium in the atmosphere, mainly emitted from electricity generation, vehicles, industry, and agricultural practices, are deposited on to the landscape. These acidifying chemicals fall to the ground with rain, snow, fog, hail, or even dust, where they can harm trees. White ash, along with balsam fir (Abies balsamea)—a a preferred choice for Christmas trees for its iconic triangle shape and pleasing aroma—are particularly sensitive to acid, leading to decreased growth and regeneration, and eventually fewer trees. Such harm can reverberate across the entire ecosystem, reducing tree cover and harming wildlife.

But other than a longer search for an acceptable Christmas tree or baseball bat, what are the direct impacts to people who also benefit from healthy forests full of fir, ash, and other trees? Until recently, answering that question with specific, easy-to-share answers was a challenge. EPA researchers are changing that.

In part of an effort to explicitly identify and quantify the many ways in which people benefit from healthy ecosystems, EPA scientist Tara Greaver explored the cascade of impacts of reduced fir and ash trees on forest ecosystems and human well-being. Or as Greaver and co-authors note in their recently-published study, “…the effects of acid rain on bunnies, baseball, and Christmas trees.”

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