Forests as carbon keepersDuring the upcoming Ecological Society of America annual meeting, Tom Kolb, an NAU forestry professor, will present his research on carbon and water fluctuations in ponderosa pine forests that have been through wildfires or thinning.

Kolb noted it’s an important topic since carbon compounds, notably carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of recent global warming and climate change.

“There is much current interest in the amount of carbon that is stored in forests because such storage prevents release of CO2 into the atmosphere where it causes warming,” he explained. “There is interest in how common disturbances to forests, such as intense fire, and thinning that is done to reduce fuel loads and the risk of intense fire, affect the capacity of forests to store carbon and to deliver water to aquifers and streams.”

Kolb’s research found that high intensity burning reduced forest capacity for carbon uptake and storage more than thinning, and reductions caused by burning can persist for decades, increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. “We also found forest water balance was affected less by both intense burning and thinning than the carbon balance,” he said.

He said the results reveal that efforts to increase aquifer recharge and stream flows by vegetation management in southwestern ponderosa pine forests will have small effects.

“Our results show that thinned forests of ponderosa pine in the southwestern United States are a desirable alternative to intensively burned forests to maintain carbon stocks and primary production,” he said.

plantThis year’s meeting of the nation’s largest group of professional ecological scientists will focus on the theme,Ecological Knowledge and a Global Sustainable Society, and offer ways to provide effective sustainable solutions to meet worldwide needs.To help clear a greener path for society, more than 30 NAU scientists will present their recent sustainability research during the Ecological Society of America annual meeting in Albuquerque Aug. 3 through 7.

Laura Huenneke, NAU’s vice president for Research and a member of the society’s public affairs committee, will present, “The Importance of Communicating Uncertainty.”

“Our topics connect ecological science to urgent policy decisions and actions taking place now,” Huenneke said. “While the economic recession causes some people to set aside environmental concerns as somehow less urgent, the Obama administration is clearly joining the governments of Europe and other regions in keeping environmental sustainability in the forefront of our response to current challenges.”

More than 200 sessions during the week will include speakers from the university, institutions and agencies to discuss the rapid loss of habitats, biological diversity, threats to freshwater resources, concerns over climate impacts and the increasing recognition that healthy human societies rely on healthy ecosystems.

“Ecology and environmental science are the university’s strongest and broadest areas of research excellence,” said Huenneke, a member of the ecological society since 1977.

She said the meeting is a great way to connect with other ecologists, those working in government, non-profit groups or in academia, and that “faculty, staff and students routinely publish their work in the selective and high-visibility journals published by the society.”

For a complete list of NAU-led sessions and titles, click here.