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To avert species' extinction, western Mass. researchers plant Appalachian trees in Franklin County

There are about 60,000 species of trees on Earth, and about 1 in 3 is at risk of extinction, according to a 2021 report from Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Among them: the Magnolia fraseri — commonly known as mountain magnolia. Native to southwestern Virginia, they are seemingly unable to adapt fast enough to habitat loss.

Now two western Massachusetts researchers are taking steps locally to save the Appalachian tree.

"The mountain magnolia at lower elevations in their native range don't seem to be reproducing and replacing themselves," Smith College biology professor Jesse Bellemare said. "You have populations that are comprised just of older adult trees with no seedlings or saplings coming up through the forest to replace them.

At higher elevations, the trees are still reproducing.

"But the available habitat at those higher and higher elevations is shrinking. And so, the concern is that this species is retreating up the mountains and may eventually lose most of its native habitat," he said.

Bellemare, together with John Berryhill from Smith’s Botanic Garden, is attempting to translocate the tree to West Whately, Massachusetts.

“From our research in its native habitat and from the little bit of literature that is out on it, it’s a species that is usually an early successional one," Berryhill said. "It prefers those disturbed canopy gaps to thrive, and ultimately, they should be canopy trees."

Those little pockets — filled with rays of sunshine — will help this tree to grow.

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Thursday, January 18, 2024