By: Michelle Klug
Photos provided by: IFAS Communication
As the planet heats up, climate changes have impacts on many ecological systems, including pine forests. Pine forests are an important resource due the large amounts of carbon dioxide they absorb from the air. This carbon sequestration helps to eliminate some greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
New temperature and precipitation changes are leading to a change in the way we see pine forests function – a change that may not have desirable effects for the forests.
In order to appropriately monitor these changes and mitigate any potential damage, IFAS Researcher Tim Martin, is leading a consortium of researchers, called PINEMAP, all with the common goal of helping this valuable resource thrive. PINEMAP, which began March 2011 and will last 5 years, is a $20 million project, awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
“The general goals are to see how climate affects carbon sequestration in planted pine and use the information to design management systems,” Martin said.
Martin will coordinate the project, which encompasses eight regional forestry cooperatives, 10 land grant universities, the USDA Forest Service, state climate offices and the Southeast Climate Consortium.
“One of the most important things we are doing is sharing data among the research co-ops,” Martin said.
Martin says he is optimistic about the research and excited to see many forestry researchers banding together for the purpose of creating better systems for southern pine. “In the past, much research has been independent,” Martin added. Now, researchers are sharing data to produce better pine forest management for maximum future sustainability.
Loblolly pine makes up the majority of planted pine in the southeast region and will be the main research focus. Research will help to inform pine growers and managers on how to manage forests for optimum carbon sequestration, efficiently use fertilizers and know which pine varieties to plant for best performance under climate change.
As one of the largest grants seen in IFAS, PINEMAP will incorporate research, outreach activity for forest landowners and education programs for students.
“We are looking at density management regimes that will help forests to be resilient to a number of disturbances,” Martin said. Some known culprits are drought and southern pine beetle, the most destructive insect pest of pine in the southern United States.
One method the researchers will employ is utilizing genetics to help pine forests adapt. Along with using existing data, researchers will use genetic sequencing to discover which genes control certain adaptation processes.
“Researchers will try to identify particular genes that control processes associated with carbon sequestration and resilience under changing climate,” Martin explained. “This information can be used to select tree strains suited for changing climate.”
In addition, climate information will be collected and projections of future climate scenarios will be estimated, so growers can use long-term applied information to shape their future practices.
In addition to the applied research and estimating climate effects, PINEMAP seeks to create an effective extension program to relay the discoveries to both industrial and non-industrial growers, as well as policy makers. Education programs will be implemented to train teachers on informing the public of the importance of pine forests and managing them as they face climate change.
“It’s one of the biggest opportunities in the southeast to bring most of the researchers that have been working on southern pine all together in one place,” Martin explained.