Allen, Kupfer, and Cairns are researching several aspects of high elevation forests, with one of their focuses being on the spatial patterns of mortality and regeneration following the introduction of the balsam woolly adelgid. (Allen and Kupfer 2000, 2001)
Professor Fred Hain (North Carolina State University) is trying to determine whether or not some Fraser fir are resistant to the adelgid and, if so, why. This resistance may potentially come in the form of thicker bark, or in the production of a substance called juvabione, which is similar to the adelgid's growth hormone, and keeps the adelgids from fully maturing (at least in the lab).
Professors Royce Woolsey and David Butcher (Western Carolina University) have been studying differences in the chemical composition of the seeds and foliage of Abies fraseri in an attempt to characterize the chemical differences between trees that makes some individuals or stands more resistant to attack by the balsam wooly adelgid.
Early studies of variation in morphological, anatomical and chemical characteristics revealed that Fraser, intermediate and balsam fir are all part of a cline or gradual variation pattern. Not only do bract lengths decrease and cone scale lengths increase from south to north, but a host of other traits also change along this geographic gradient. (Robinson and Thor 1969, Thor 1968, Thor and Barnett 1974, Zavarin and Snajberk 1972)
Clark et al. (2000) performed a genetic study using chloroplast microsatellites to determine if Abies fraseri is genetically distinct from the closely related taxa, Abies balsamea and Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis. Results showed a clear genetic divergence among these three eastern North American species of Fir. This study also found relatively high levels of genetic variation for all three species.
Permanent research plots were set up in a number of Fraser fir populations in the early 1960's as concern about the impacts of the balsam woolly adelgid on the species were raised. Busing and Clebsch (1988) had plots on Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and North Carolina State University also had plots from 1966-1978.
Research on Mt. Mitchell by the University of Michigan and Forest Experimental Station found that the mortality of Fraser fir on Mt. Mitchell from 1955 to 1965 was estimated at over 1.5 million trees, which was about 82-98% of the overstory.
""Attempts to use the tree as an ornamental at low elevations have not been successful."" (Harrar 1962) ""Being occasionally planted in the parks and gardens of the northern states and Europe, it does not live long, suffering from hot, dry weather."" (Sargent 1965) At the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Fraser fir suffered yearly damage from the hot and dry summer conditions as well as from spider mite infestations. Despite these dire early predictions, this species is thriving in the Christmas tree trade, and a number of papers have been published on propagation methods. These studies includes propagation from seed, grafting, air layering, stem cutting, and tissue culture (micropropagation). (Bruck 1983, Wise et al. 1985, Saravitz 1990, Bryan 1991, Blazich and Hinesley 1994, Bergmann 1997, Rajbhandari and Stomp 1997, Hinesley et al. 1998, Hinesely et al. 2000)
A great deal of work has also been done in the Christmas tree industry on ways to increase the marketability of the Fraser fir as a Christmas tree. (Hinesley & Blankenship 1991a & 1991b, Hinesley et al. 1992, Hinesley & Snelling 1992, Hinesley & Snelling 1995, Hinesley & Snelling 1997, Hinesley et al. 2000)