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American Chestnut restoration and carbon storage potential

Title: Forecasting carbon storage of eastern forests: interactions of exotic insect pests, climate change and restoration management

Funding:  USDA 
National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)

Douglass Jacobs, Purdue University (PI), Eric Gustafson, U.S. Forest Service- WI (Co-PI), Brian Sturtevant, U.S. Forest Service- WI, (Co-PI); Dan Kashian, Wayne State University (Co-PI); Hao Zhang, Purdue University (Co-PI); Jane Foster, University of Wisconsin (Collaborator); Michael Steele, Wilkes University (Collaborator); Robert Swihart, Purdue University (Collaborator); Phil Townsend, University of Wisconsin (Collaborator); Harmony Dalgleish, William and Mary University (Collaborator);  Arjan De Bruijn, Purdue University, (Postdoctoral Associate); Nathanael Lichti, Purdue University (Postdoctoral Associate)

Status:  On-going; July 2011- June 2015.

Eastern deciduous forests represent an important proportion of the nation’s forest carbon (C) stores, and imminent, largely anthropogenic forest changes present unique challenges and opportunities for this important C pool.  A legacy of direct and indirect human impacts have altered tree species composition of eastern deciduous forests at regional scales, and this trend is likely to continue as new exotic pests spread throughout the forest.  For example, fire suppression, gypsy moth and forest management practices have begun a regional-scale replacement of oaks (Quercus) by red maple (Acer rubrum), a species with low wood density and rapid decay, and it is not known how will this affect C sequestration and storage.  Other potential pest-induced losses of ash (Fraxinus), hemlock (Tsuga) and beech (Fagus grandifolia) may dramatically alter C storage in eastern forests.  Such changes may alter short-term C biogeochemistry, long-term C storage capacity, and the resilience of these forests to new pests and climate change. However, the imminent reintroduction of blight-resistant American chestnut (Castanea dentata) has potential to increase C storage and ameliorate declines in other tree genera because of its relative shade tolerance, rapid growth rate, large size, longevity, and decay resistance.

 We have assembled an interdisciplinary team of landscape modelers, statisticians, C scientists, foresters, and ecologists, and are forecasting landscape scale C storage in eastern forests under a set of plausible alternative futures that include expected and potential declines in existing tree species due to exotic pests, forest restoration activities targeting chestnut and oaks, and the direct and indirect effects of climate change.  We will generate forecasts using a landscape disturbance and succession model (LANDIS II) with input parameters informed by targeted field studies, our recent remote sensing research, and an ecosystem physiology model (PnET-II).  A factorial simulation experiment will test the effect of five factors (prescribed fire, climate change, existing insect pests, potential insect pests and chestnut restoration) on C storage in eastern forests.  A major output from this project will be a new LANDIS-II succession extension that will embed the PnET-II ecophysiology model to more mechanistically simulate growth as a competition for light and water.