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Scientists model the effects of restoring the American chestnut tree to the eastern U.S. landscape

Photo of Snapshot : The American chestnut tree is fast growing, somewhat tolerant of shade, and its wood is resistant to decay. The chestnut tree might be capable of significantly increasing carbon storage if it could be restored to its former dominance across the eastern U.S., but is it capable of reasserting its dominance in the face of changing climate and new insect pests and can it increase carbon storage in eastern forests?

Principal Investigators(s) :
Gustafson, Eric J.Sturtevant, Brian R.
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1202


American chestnut was a dominant species in eastern U.S. forests until an introduced blight nearly killed it off a century ago. Attempts are underway to reintroduce a blight-resistant hybrid chestnut, but it is not clear how current forest composition, climate, and atmospheric changes, and various disturbances will interact to determine future forest composition and ecosystem services. The combination of new environmental conditions (e.g., climate change), a reintroduced tree species, and new exotic insect pests has never occurred in the past, meaning that predictive models based on past behavior cannot be used. Forest Service scientists used the LANDIS forest landscape model to examine how chestnut restoration strategy and climate change would affect future forest dynamics in two ecological regions that together represent 54 percent of the former range of chestnut. Research results suggest that climate change would favor the chestnut and that the chestnut would compete better in the moister Appalachian Plateau ecoregion. While the strategy used to restore the American chestnut can have an effect on biomass accumulation, the difference between the strategies examined was not so great that one would be clearly preferred over the other. Adding chestnut trees to the landscape modestly enhanced total carbon storage on the moister ecoregion relative to the drier ecoregion. It appears that while chestnut restoration may produce benefits for wildlife and timber supply, it is unlikely to be a “game-changer” for carbon sequestration.