Forest Fertilization May be Beneficial

Professors and researchers are studying how fertilization of forests can increase productivity and carbon sequestration as part of the Pine Integrated Network Education, Mitigation and Adaptation Project (PineMap).

Fertilizing yards and crops are a common practice, and make one wonder what would happen to forests if they were fertilized. Researchers working on the Pine Integrated Network Education, Mitigation and Adaptation Project (PineMap) intend to find out the answer. Assistant Professor of forest ecosystem science at Texas A&M University, Dr. Jason Vogel, and several other professors and researchers are studying forests to see how fertilization may increase productivity and overall health of those forests.

The entire project is trying to prepare southern pine forest owners for potential climate change, Vogel said. The region in the study is from North Carolina to Oklahoma and Texas, plus everything south. The climate is expected to be warmer, which could induce drought stress on trees. In the southeastern U.S., forests are responsible for 5.5 percent of all the jobs and 7.5 percent of industrial output, he said.

Vogel's primary interest is in the below-ground processes of a forest; he wants to discover how much root mass the trees carry and how soil organisms respond to fertilization and climate. The larger goal is to find the best management scheme that maximizes a forest landowner's investment in a sustainable way.

“Trees are estimated to take up about 13 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from a region. If they are fertilized, thus growing bigger faster, they can store more carbon in their tissue and in the soil beneath them,” Vogel said.

Through a modeling component of the combined study, Vogel will take what his study finds about the below-ground life of a forest and add it to the other researchers' findings. Part of the project is aimed at letting the smaller landowners with managed forest land know what changes they might make to improve their forest's productivity and resistance to change in climate.

Decisions by small landowners are critical because it is estimated that 65 percent of the forests in Texas are owned by small landowners. The PineMap study will give them the tools needed to help make decisions on the best future avenues to take.

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