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Revival of American Chestnut Tree Could Slow Global Warming

According to a Purdue University study, the introduction of a new hybrid of the all-but-extinct American chestnut tree might bring back the tree and serve to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and slow global climate change. Dr. Douglass Jacobs, the lead author of the report, found that American chestnuts grow much faster and larger than other hardwood species, allowing these trees to sequester more carbon than other trees over the same period. And because American chestnut trees are more often used for high-quality hardwood products such as furniture, they hold the carbon longer than does wood used for paper or other low-grade materials. Carbon dioxide is considered a major greenhouse gas, responsible for rising global temperatures. Dr. Jacobs said that trees absorb about one-sixth of the carbon emitted globally each year. Increasing the amount that can be absorbed annually could make a considerable difference in slowing climate change, he said. At the beginning of the last century, the chestnut blight, caused by a fungus, rapidly spread throughout the American chestnut's natural range, which extended from southern New England and New York, southwest to Alabama. About 50 years ago, the species was nearly gone. New efforts to hybridize remaining American chestnuts with blight-resistant Chinese chestnuts have resulted in a species that is about 94 percent American chestnut with the protection found in the Chinese species. Dr. Jacobs said that these new trees could be ready to plant in the next decade, either in existing forests or former agricultural fields that are being returned to forested land. This work was published in the June issue of Forest Ecology and Management. [Press release] [Forest Ecology and Management abstract No. 11]