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Study finds hemlock trees dying rapidly, affecting forest carbon cycle
Date:2/26/2009

Otto, NC New research by U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and partners suggests the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing hemlock trees faster than expected in the southern Appalachians and rapidly altering the carbon cycle of these forests. SRS researchers and cooperators from the University of Georgia published the findings in the most recent issue of the journal Ecosystems.

"The study marks the first time that scientists have tracked the short-term effects hemlock woolly adelgid infestations are having on the forest carbon cycle," said Chelcy Ford, SRS ecologist and co-author of the paper.

Eastern hemlock, a keystone species in the streamside forests of the southern Appalachian region, is already experiencing widespread decline and mortality because of hemlock woolly adelgid (a tiny nonnative insect) infestation. The pest has the potential to kill most of the region's hemlock trees within the next decade. As a native evergreen capable of maintaining year-round transpiration rates, hemlock plays an important role in the ecology and hydrology of mountain ecosystems. Hemlock forests provide critical habitat for birds and other animals; their shade helps maintain the cool water temperatures required by trout and other aquatic organisms in mountain streams.

Scientists conducted the study in mixed hardwood forests along the edges of two streams at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a 5,600-acre research facility and experimental forest in the Nantahala Mountain Range of western North Carolina.

Researchers compared rates of decline of adelgid-infested hemlock trees to a small number of girdled (severely wounded the bark of a tree to initiate tree mortality) trees that were not infested. Researchers tracked changes in the carbon cycle of these hemlock stands over a 3-year period. Scientists measured components of the forest carbon cycle including tree growth, leaf litter and fine roo
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Contact: Stevin Westcott
swestcott@fs.fed.us
828-259-0512
Southern Research Station - USDA Forest Service
Source:Eurekalert

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