American beeches (Fagus grandifolia) have struggled in recent years. Beech bark disease, caused by invasive European scale insects which introduce fatal fungal infections, has greatly weakened populations from Quebec to West Virginia. A new leaf disease caused by Japanese nematodes has been exponentially spreading throughout New England after its 2012 discovery in Ohio. Researchers are still trying to understand how the nematode spreads and what actions can be taken to preserve these keystone trees—dozens of mammalian and avian species rely on beech nuts to accumulate fat for the winter.
Unfortunately, Garden in the Woods’ beeches have contracted both diseases and are being removed as the trees die. Though these losses are tragic, the dead trunks— called ‘snags’— can still support a wide array of wildlife. Look for the many small holes in the bark— these may be populated by carpenter bees, wasps, beetles, ants, or termites, which makes snags highly attractive to Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) as feeding and nesting sites. One striking stingless wasp, the Giant Black Ichneumon (Megarhyssa atrata), uses a five-inch-long ovipositor to parasitize other wood-boring larvae. Even if dead wood needs to be cut down for safety reasons, leaving it on the ground to naturally decompose over time as a “nurse log” helps restore soil nutrition and fungal networks while being a fertile place for new seedlings to take root.