Aug. 15, 2011 – Virginia Tech is among a consortium of land-grant institutions in the South to receive a $20 million Coordinated Agricultural Grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study the effects of climate change on southern pine forests.
“The project, called PINEMAP (Pine Integrated Network: Education, Mitigation and Adaptation), is focused on creating the knowledge needed to sustainably manage southern pine plantations so that they are better adapted to droughts, temperature extremes, and other variations in climate,” said Tom Fox, professor of forest soils and silviculture, who is the lead principal investigator (PI) on the $3.4 million portion of the grant going to the college’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.
“The five-year grant will study climate change mitigation and adaptation as it relates to southern pines, particularly loblolly, from Virginia to Texas,” said Dean Paul Winistorfer. “It reflects a lot of hard work and cooperation with many researchers. Securing this level of support is a very impressive effort.”
Fox, who serves as the overall lead PI for silvicultural research on the grant as well as the Integration Team Leader for mitigation, will help coordinate and synthesize the work of the more than 29 scientists from 11 southeastern universities, eight forest industry research cooperatives, and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as climatologists from the Southeastern states.
The grant builds on more than 40 years of research conducted by industry/university research cooperatives in forestry, including two housed at Virginia Tech: the Forest Modeling Research Cooperative and the Forest Productivity Cooperative. “NIFA clearly recognized the immense value of the long-term data brought to the project by these industry/university partnerships,” stated Fox. “The overall goal is to improve the health, productivity, and sustainability of southern pine forests and to provide landowners the tools they need to better manage their forests in the future to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
“Another key aspect of the grant was the outstanding team of scientists we assembled to work on this project,” Fox noted. Co-PIs on the grant include faculty members Harold Burkhart, Jason Holliday, John Seiler, Brian Strahm, Valerie Thomas, and Randolph Wynne. “NIFA required us to bring together a large, multi-institutional, trans-disciplinary group of scientists to comprehensively address the impacts of climate change on southern pine forests,” Fox noted. “Without the expertise and contributions of the entire team of PIs at Virginia Tech, this grant would not have been possible.”
Professor Randy Wynne, co-director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Environmental Applications in Remote Sensing, is co-leader of the overall project modeling team, which includes Valerie Thomas, assistant professor of forest remote sensing, and University Distinguished Professor Harold Burkhart, who specializes in forest biometrics, in addition to researchers at other participating institutions. The team will examine the response of the southern pine ecosystems to future scenarios based on regional carbon and productivity models driven by the extensive field data, experimental results, and remote sensing.
Alumni Distinguished Professor John Seiler is investigating tree ecophysiological responses, including soil respiration and the separation of total soil respiration into heterotrophic (CO2 produced by microorganisms in soils) and autotrophic (CO2 produced by tree roots) components. Accurate estimates of heterotrophic respiration are critical for accurately predicting carbon dioxide capture. He is also co-director for the large education component of the project. “We will be training teachers in the role that forests play in mitigating climate change, sending undergraduates into public schools where they will teach students, and also using undergraduates as research interns during the summer,” Seiler said.
Jason Holliday, assistant professor of forest genetics and biotechnology, will examine the genetics component of the project in collaboration with researchers at Texas A&M, North Carolina State, and the University of Florida to better understand the genes that underlie climatic adaptation. “This knowledge can then be used to enhance forest health and productivity by correctly matching planting stock to changing climatic regimes,” Holliday added.
Brian Strahm, assistant professor of forest soils and ecology, will focus on the role and responses of forest soils to the mitigation and adaptation of southern pine ecosystems to climate variation. “I’ll be working closely with the ecophysiology and silviculture teams by evaluating soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics with a specific focus on how the interaction of climate change and management affect nutrient availability and use, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse gas fluxes,” he explained.