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Root Disease Quietly Holds Back Forest Carbon Storage

Photo of Armillaria mellea is a parasitic fungus that frequently causes root disease in forests of the US. Mars 2002, Wikimedia Commons.Armillaria mellea is a parasitic fungus that frequently causes root disease in forests of the US. Mars 2002, Wikimedia Commons.Snapshot : Dramatic disturbances such as wildfires and harvests command attention, but subtler processes such as root disease can be equally important in determining how much greenhouse gas a forest takes out of the atmosphere.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Healey, Sean P.  
Research Location : Northern Rockies: Montana, Idaho
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1000


Growing forests take greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. National forests must account for how natural and management-oriented disturbance processes affect carbon storage as an ecosystem benefit. Although it doesn't always cause large, eye catching areas of mortality, root disease likely affects carbon storage by reducing tree growth and regeneration over vast areas; however, no previously available tools allowed monitoring of the effect of root disease on carbon storage at a landscape level. Forest Servie scientists compared the effects of root disease against the effects other types of forest disturbance across six national forests in Idaho and Montana from 1990-2011. To compare the effects, they used a monitoring tool called the Forest Carbon Management Framework (ForCaMF), which makes use of Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data, an empirical growth model, and time series of Landsat satellite imagery. Despite several large fires that burned across these landscapes during the study period, retrospective ForCaMF analysis showed that fire and root disease had approximately equal impacts on carbon storage. While tools informing management of forest carbon storage have generally ignored long-term disturbance processes such as root disease, the recent history of several national forests suggests that such disturbances can be just as important to the carbon cycle as the more conspicuous events like wildfires.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Blakey Lockman, Forest Health Protection
  • Alex Hernandez, Utah State University
  • Chris Garrard, Utah State University
  • Crystal Raymond, Seattle City Light