The northern forests of New England could store more carbon and significantly help reduce the threat of climate change but existing management strategies are not adequate for this task, according to recently published research from the Manomet Center and partners.
“Like old-growth forests, New England’s late-successional forests store almost twice as much carbon as the average forest. Unlike old-growth, late-successional forests are still somewhat widespread but they are rapidly being logged to make paper and lumber,” said Andy Whitman, director of Manomet’s Sustainable Economies Initiative.
Whitman and former Manomet scientist John Gunn are authors on Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Carbon Temporal Dynamics in the Northern Forest (Northeastern USA), which was accepted recently for publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Forest Ecology and Management. University of New Hampshire scientist Mark Ducey is also an author on the paper. The three collaborated as well on Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forests in the Northeastern United States: Structure, Dynamics, and Prospects for Restoration, which was published in the journal Forests.
“The two papers together make for a more complete picture,” said Gunn, who is now the executive director of the Spatial Informatics Group-Natural Assets Laboratory. “One shows the value of the Northern Forest in climate mitigation but the other shows that what we are doing right now isn’t working and we need to be proactive if we want to use forests in our climate change mitigation strategy.”
For the recently accepted paper on carbon temporal dynamics, the team re-measured old forest plots to assess carbon dynamics over a 12-year period. They found that carbon stocks on old-growth plots are declining with the death of many beech trees, most likely driven by the synergy between climate and beech bark fungus.
“Our research shows how climate change might cause reversals, or carbon loss, in the region’s forests. Forest pests, diseases and exotic species will likely work synergistically with climate change to cause tree mortality,” Whitman said. “Our study might be an illustration of this. A 1999 to 2002 drought increased the susceptibility of beech to the non-native beech bark disease, coupled with a mild winter which fostered dispersal of beech bark fungus. Together they killed trees and reduced old-growth carbon stocks. Although frequently discussed, long-term research like this is necessary to provide concrete examples of carbon reversals in our forests.”
Click here to view Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Carbon Temporal Dynamics in the Northern Forest (Northeastern USA).
Click here to view Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forests in the Northeastern United States: Structure, Dynamics, and Prospects for Restoration.
– Dave McGlinchey