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Old 02-17-2022, 02:27 PM   #1
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The mystery of the Oak

Some of you may remember this wildly popular thread:

which I snipped from another thread and continued. We again got off on the tangent of oak in the Adirondacks, somewhat unresolved, but I've learned a few things since then. Let me share.

First off, this map I posted:

Unfortunately it's a math model, not actual data. It was correlated at specific points but it was constructed for a number of genera across the US. The DEC must have somehow bought or had rights to the model. Anyway, I figured that might be important to know.

I think it generally follows a pretty good trend, but I know for a fact there are areas it's plain wrong, and I've confirmed this. For instance there are parts of Ontario county where the map should be dark green like the lower Hudson. There are pockets of oak that show up in the Adirondacks that I'm aware of that do not show up.

The second thing is what was presented by Michael Kudish, professor emeritus of Paul Smith's College. He claims the oak (and hickory actually) of the Champlain valley and encroaching the east of the Adirondacks is direct evidence that natives burned the area. I don't agree with this theory, but I'm going to put it out there.

Historical evidence does show that this area was highly agricultural, and I have no doubts that natives were highly impacting the land before Europeans. What we see today is likely the result of Europeans though. Much of this area was not included in the original blue line and the land was highly developed - a lot of it cleared for agriculture. We really don't know what was there because as hardwoods were cleared for farms, they were used to make potash or charcoal for blast furnaces. The trees simply were in the way and the timber not valuable enough or easy enough to transport for us to have much knowledge about it.

Kudish also thinks the west/central Adirondacks had not burned pre-European. This I tend to think is true and there is evidence to support. What may have burned were likely small pockets (caused by lightning) no bigger than what ice or wind my cause in terms of disturbance. Humans did clear land and caused either directly or indirectly, a number of fires in the late 1800s to early 1900s. But the interesting thing is, in most of these, we simply don't see any oak. There are a few pockets - one on Blue Mountain apparently which is pretty deep interior and some on Whiteface, that were likely started after fires.

But unlike wind dispersed species, oaks won't simply pop up out of nowhere. An acorn, and likely many acorns, need to find their way there. And I believe this dispersal barrier is why we didn't see more oak encroach after fires. The seed simply never made it there for whatever reason.

There's also the question of what else is there. In one paper I read, fire cherry was the dominant species to come in after a fire, but fire cherry seeds need to be present in the soil for that to happen. Interestingly enough their seeds can persist a century or more buried in the soil waiting for another disturbance. If a species like this is present, it's very unlikely any oak could compete for the canopy. What we see in this case is very shade tolerant species like red spruce in the understory and then becoming the dominant species as the pioneers die off.

Long story short, I still don't know why it is the way it is, but there do seem to be some indications, and most point to the fact that the seeds were simply not making it to areas where they could germinate.

Last edited by montcalm; 02-17-2022 at 08:20 PM..
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Old 02-17-2022, 02:52 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by montcalm View Post
The seed simply never made it there for whatever reason.
I have heard the aphorism "The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree" and I imagine it may be relevant to this situation.
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Old 02-17-2022, 03:00 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Zach View Post
I have heard the aphorism "The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree" and I imagine it may be relevant to this situation.
This is true - same with Hickory although it doesn't sound as good.

Big nuts are hard to transport.

The Blue mountain population is pretty remote, from what I can see. But I'm guessing it's probably some kind of hot spot for birds and why the nuts got up there. I'd like understand this more, TBH.

I think the moral of the story though is this... the acorn needs a spot to grow and a means to get there (the odds of those two thing happening far away from other population of oaks becomes increasingly small). I think we tend to see oaks in the Adirondacks up on mountains and hill tops because:

1 - they are far more drought tolerant than any other native hardwood (and even if it rains a lot up there, the soils just don't hold any water)

2 - those areas get disturbed more by wind and ice, and maybe fire...

3 - birds visit those areas

We know the species can survive, and even thrive in the conditions. It's just whether or not they can gain a competitive advantage on other species i.e. maples, beeches, basswood, etc... which do better in mesic conditions.
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Old 02-18-2022, 08:10 PM   #4
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Maybe remnants or outliers...
What were the Adirondacks like before the Ice Age? | NCPR News
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Old 02-18-2022, 08:40 PM   #5
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I need to look at some maps for a real good answer on that...

But... I doubt it. The Adirondacks were completely glaciated and the resulting forest afterward was likely not, but more likely a tundra. I've looked at some studies of this for glacial max - and there wasn't a large area of this, it mainly went right to Taiga, so maybe that transition was short.

Interestingly enough, I was recently introduced to a rare plant called Leedy's Roseroot, which does appear to be a glacial maximum remnant. It exists in the southern Finger Lakes around Watkins Glen and in Minnesota. Looking at estimated max. glaciation it looks like WG would have been right on the edge as well as the portions of MN (actually most of MN was not glaciated). That's the theory at least why it very sparsely exists at such extreme distances.

Last edited by montcalm; 02-18-2022 at 08:55 PM..
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