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Harvard Forest Research Project 2022

  • Title: Interactive Effects of Forest Fragmentation and Climate Change
  • Principal investigator: Andrew Reinmann (areinmann@gc.cuny.edu)
  • Institution: CUNY Hunter College
  • Primary contact: Andrew Reinmann (areinmann@gc.cuny.edu)
  • Team members: Lucy Hutyra; Andrew Reinmann; Jonathan Thompson
  • Abstract:

    Temperate forests remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other terrestrial ecosystem and thus play a critical role in slowing the rate of climate change. However, temperate forests are also the most heavily fragmented forest biome in the world. Deforestation from urbanization and agricultural expansion creates heterogeneous landscapes with large spatial gradients in growing conditions for trees. Trees at the forest edge grow faster than those in the forest interior, yet are more negatively impacted by extreme weather like high temperatures and drought. The mechanisms explaining why tree growth in fragmented forests is more negatively impacted by climate stress than in intact forests remain unknown. The scientific community’s understanding of how climate affects tree growth and forest carbon sequestration are largely based on studies from interior forest ecosystems, away from forest edges. This past focus on interior forests limits our understanding of carbon cycling across the large and growing proportion of temperate forests that is influenced by fragmentation. This study integrates a field experiment and modeling to test the interactive effects of forest fragmentation and climate on tree growth and forest carbon sequestration. The project is intended to transform how we think about the future of the temperate forest’s capacity to sequester carbon in a world facing ongoing changes in climate and land cover and thus will inform climate change mitigation strategies. This work is paired with initiatives aimed at addressing major barriers to inclusion in environmental biology and improving communication between academics and stakeholders, including engaging minority students and high school teachers in research and holding workshops with academics, educators, and forest managers.

    The goals of the proposed work are to develop a mechanistic understanding of the interactive effects of forest fragmentation and climate on forest carbon sequestration and the role these interactions play in modulating carbon balance across human-dominated landscapes. These goals will be accomplished by establishing a new experiment to manipulate precipitation regimes (i.e., ambient precipitation, high precipitation, and drought) in both edge-influenced and interior temperate broadleaf forests. This experiment will also leverage naturally occurring variations in air temperature across time to explore the roles of forest fragmentation and water availability in forest carbon sequestration response to excessive heat. Data generated from this experiment will be used to modify an existing Earth system model (the Energy Exascale Earth System Model) to improve depictions of forest carbon cycling across human-landscapes and in response to climate change.