Investigation of Birch Decline

Researcher's Name:Michael Murray, Ph.D.
Researcher's Affiliation:BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
Researcher's Job Title:Forest Pathologist
Researcher's Email address:[email protected]
Project Start Date:2009
Project End Date:On-going
Location of Study Area:Columbia Mountains, British Columbia
Links to Published Material:
Sponsors/Funders were:BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations


Co-Authors: Carlos Sarmiento (UBC) and Richar Hamelin (UBC).

Keywords: Birch decline, climate change, Armillaria, tree disease.

Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) offer a variety of attributes in BC including syrup, veneer, beverage flavour, medicinal tonic, and teeth cleaner. The decline of paper birch has been widespread throughout the Southern Interior region of the province. Characterized by crown die-back, most mature birch appear susceptible. The spatial distribution patterns and actual causation remain poorly understood. Beginning in 2009, 25 birch sampling sites were inventoried in the region. A total of 247 trees were increment cored. Additionally, several dozen trees had cross-sections collected. These samples provide the material to identify possible perturbations in growth, tree stress, and better understand predisposing factors. Using a tree ring lab in Nelson, possible links between climate and tree stress are being examined.

Crown die-back in birches. Photo by Michael Murray.

Crown die-back in birches. Photo by Michael Murray.

A separate sampling was conducted to target fungal pathogen. After felling 26 trees, we cut-off upper stem segments where the dieback was occurring. The logs were then delivered to the UBC Forest Pathology Lab, supervised by Dr. Richard Hamelin. The lab has identified decay fungi which typically aren’t mortality agents alone. Armillaria ostoyae was also common. Cryptosporella tomentalla was found near Nelson and is the first-known occurence in BC.


Identification of forest health agents contributing to birch decline.  Implications for forest composition, effects of climate change, tree declines.

Future Research Suggested by Project

Does loss of birch trees lead to increased root disease in associated conifers?


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