The drive to develop crops for use as biofuel, continues to raisequestions about additional uses of forest land. A cutting edgecomputer model developed at North Carolina State University offersdetailed insight to predict the environmental impact - along withunderstanding forest ecosystem response to global climate change. "We think the model will help policy makers and forest managersmake informed decisions to maintain forest productivity whileminimizing the environmental impact of managed forest plantations,"says Dr. Shiying Tian, a Postdoctoral Researcher at NC State, andlead author of a paper on the model, just released in the JournalOf Environmental Quality. |
"It also will help us understand how these forest systems willrespond if we see changes in temperature or precipitation relatedto climate change," says Dr. Mohamed Youssef, Assistant Professorof Biological and Agricultural Engineering at NC State, andco-author. NC State previously developed models accounting for the hydrology,carbon and nitrogen cycles in agricultural land with high watertable soils. The new model, DRAINMOD-FOREST, extends theapplicability to forest land by accounting for plant growth in theforest ecosystem.
The model addresses how trees and other forestvegetation affect - and are affected by - the water, carbon, andnitrogen cycles. DRAINMOD-FOREST looks specifically at forests in areas with a highwater table - such as coastal regions. The new model is timely, due to a number of emerging uses forforest land. One example, the national interest in identifying newmeans of growing biofuels crops, like switchgrass, by planting itin the space between trees in commercial forests.
DRAINMOD-FOREST will help determine whether such an "inter-crop"method is viable and sustainable. Would it hinder tree growth? Whatwould the environmental consequences be? "We could also use themodel to determine the viability and environmental impact ofintroducing new commercial tree species," Tian says. "This is a whole system model," says Youssef. "We look at thehydrology, or water cycle, of the system. We look at the nitrogenand carbon cycles.
And we look at plant growth in the forestsystem. This is the most thorough model yet for forest ecosystemsin the coastal regions of the south and southeast U.S." View the abstract here .
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