by John Hastings
This is the first in a two-part blog series by John Hastings, graduate student at North Carolina State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. John can be reached with questions at email@example.com.
Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is the most commercially important tree species in the Southeast U.S. where it occupies over 29 million acres and more than half of the standing pine volume. In addition to being important for soil stability and wood product manufacturing, loblolly pine is ecologically and climatically significant, hosting a variety of plant and animal species, sequestering carbon, and providing a sustainable energy alternative through biomass. Even a species as widespread and critical to our daily lives as loblolly pine cannot escape the inevitability of a warming climate. My work assesses the vulnerability of loblolly pine to increased temperature and less frequent but more intense rainfall, and evaluates the sensitivities landowners are likely to see as a result (see below). In part 2, I will use the climate models to evaluate patterns in rainfall change.
Warm temperatures are no stranger to the Southeast, but constant and irregularly warm temperatures will likely force landowners to reevaluate their current management strategies. My analysis uses GIS techniques to looks at current USDA plant hardiness zones, which are built on extreme annual minimum temperatures and assesses how they may shift in the future. The result is a northward migration of each zone (see below). To the landowner this means they will have to source seedlings from further away to plant on their property. Early to mid-rotation plantations may also see stress from soil degradation due to higher temperatures, as well as decreased water availability and increased pressure from forest insect pests and invasive plants. Decreased water availability may cause soils to become more compacted and more likely to runoff.
The possibility of long-term pressure from climate brings about the need for realistic solutions to help landowners increase their adaptive capacity. The newly developed PINEMAP Decision Support System is making adaptive planning, seed sourcing and deployment possible. Projections and insights garnered from PINEMAP research may drive enhanced management practices such as site preparation, thinning, prescribed fire regimes, rotations, and harnessing rainfall more efficiently to foster species sustainability in a changing climate.
Image Credits: John Hastings