Research Roundup

Overviews of the climate change work happening at Forest Service research stations.
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Soil carbon dynamics in peatlands: PEATcosm
Northern Research Station

Peatland ecosystems represent 3-5% of earth's land surface, but store 12-30% of soil organic carbon. However, this very large pool of carbon is vulnerable to loss to the atmosphere as CO2 because of climate change. Lowered water tables caused by climate change or human-caused drainage can shift peatlands from being net carbon sinks to net carbon sources. The PEATcosm experiment was initiated to study the relationships between water tables, plant communities, and carbon and nutrient cycling in peatlands in a controlled setting. Read more on the experiment here [pdf].

Contact: Evan Kane
Assessing Local Urban Forest Carbon Storage, Sequestration and Effects on Emissions from Building Energy Use
Northern Research Station
Project website:

The i-Tree suite of models is designed to link research with local data on tree populations to assess the services and values provide by trees. The model is constantly being updated with new features and is being used globally. The model estimates numerous ecosystem services, disservices, and values, and includes estimates of tree carbon storage and annual sequestration, and their effects on building energy and consequent emissions from power plants. For more, please see the i-Tree tools page.

Contact: David Nowak
Effects of urban tree management and species selection on atmospheric carbon dioxide
Northern Research Station

Trees sequester and store carbon in their tissue at differing rates and amounts based on such factors as tree size at maturity, life span, and growth rate. Concurrently, tree care practices release carbon back to the atmosphere based on fossil-fuel emissions from maintenance equipment (e.g., chain saws, trucks, chippers). Management choices such as tree locations for energy conservation and tree disposal methods after removal also affect the net carbon effect of the urban forest. Different species, decomposition, energy conservation, and maintenance scenarios were evaluated to determine how these factors influence the net carbon impact of urban forests and their management. If carbon (via fossil-fuel combustion) is used to maintain vegetation structure and health, urban forest ecosystems eventually will become net emitters of carbon unless secondary carbon reductions (e.g., energy conservation) or limiting decomposition via long-term carbon storage (e.g., wood products, landfills) can be accomplished to offset the maintenance carbon emissions. Management practices to maximize the net benefits of urban forests on atmospheric carbon dioxide are discussed.

Contact: David Nowak
Updated US National Carbon Storage and Sequestration Estimates
Northern Research Station

The latest research on urban forests in the United States reveals that urban whole tree carbon storage densities average 7.69 kg C per m2 of tree cover and sequestration densities average 0.28 kg C per m2 of tree cover per year. Total tree carbon storage in U.S. urban areas (c. 2005) is estimated at 643 million metric tons ($50.5 billion value; 95% CI = 597 million and 690 million metric tons) and annual sequestration is estimated at 25.6 million metric tons ($2.0 billion value; 95% CI = 23.7 million to 27.4 million metric tons). Estimates are presented by state and include the latest urban tree cover data and field data from urban areas across the United States.

Contact: David Nowak
Climate Change and Reptile Habitat in the northwestern U.S.
Pacific Northwest Research Station

Understanding reptile distributions and how they might be affected by climate change can help guide the management of these species. Research activities include:

  • Modeling landscape-scale factors including climate metrics associated with northwestern reptile distributions.
  • Examining potential habitat ‘hot spots’ for reptiles in coastal Oregon mesic forests.
Contact: Dede Olson
Conservation of the Louisiana Pine Snake
Southern Research Station

One of North America’s rarest reptiles, the Louisiana pine snake, may require extra assistance to persist under climate change. Scientists with the Southern Research Station are developing an RRTH (relocation, reintroduction, translocation, headstarting) project for these reptiles.

Contact: Daniel Saenz
Effects of climate change and other factors on a lizard community in an ecotone in southeastern Arizona.

Lizards are expected to be an early warning system of impending change in vegetation communities, and a useful tool in predicting adaptive management needs. This study is conducted in the area with the highest diversity of lizards in the USA, situated at an ecotone between two deserts and a mountain range. Changes in the lizard community are expected sooner in this ecotone than in distinct habitat types, and are also expected to precede observed changes in vegetation.

Climate Change and Herpetofauna

Climate change is expected to affect amphibians through a number of direct and indirect mechanisms. This project focuses on examining several of these mechanisms, as well as potential management responses, including:

  • "Shrinking heads hypothesis" - How do forested headwater streams respond to low water years? Do riparian buffers mitigate shrinking heads effects?
  • Over-ridge connectivity designs for forested amphibians.
  • Climate associations of the amphibian chytrid fungus.
  • Long-term monitoring of anuran breeding dates in the Cascade Range.
Contact: Dede Olson
Climate and breeding phenology of anuran species in Texas
Southern Research Station

Changing weather patterns from global climate change could be a contributing factor in declining frog populations, particularly for species that rely on ephemeral water sources, like some of those in eastern Texas. Scientists in Nacogdoches, TX are currently studying the effects of rainfall and temperature on the breeding activities of 13 different species of frogs in eastern Texas. Information from the research will make it possible to predict potential effects of a changing climate on frog populations.

Contact: Daniel Saenz
Threat assessment of non-native perennial grasses to the ecology and management of National Grasslands in the Northern Great Plains
Rocky Mountain Research Station
Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center

National Grasslands are large, diverse, and mostly intact native ecosystems that provide a wide variety of outputs and resource values. Approximately 86% of the 3.8 million acres of National Grasslands are located within the Northern Great Plains States of CO, NE, WY, SD, and ND, and may represent the last, large tracts of native short- and mixed-grass prairie in the United States. However, the structural and functional integrity of native grasslands are being threatened by intensive agriculture, urban and energy development, unmanaged recreation, and climate change. This project is strategically focused on National Grasslands issues that may adversely impact the diversity, productivity, and sustainability of what may be the last, large tracts of native grasslands in the United States.

Contact: Jack Butler