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NC State News

Better Pine Trees, Better Environment

College of Natural Resources researchers are improving loblolly pine trees to draw in more carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas.

More than 50 years of genetics work to increase loblolly pine production in the Southeast has improved the trees’ ability to act as carbon sinks that mitigate climate change, according to a new study by NC State researchers from the College of Natural Resources.

“We’ve been working to create trees that grow faster and produce more wood, and what this research shows is that at the same time we’re enhancing environmental quality by scrubbing as much carbon out of the atmosphere as we possibly can,” says Dr. John King, forest ecologist and co-author of a paper published this month in the journal Forest Science.

The study estimated a 17 percent increase in stem-wood production and a 13 percent increase in carbon uptake in improved loblolly pines planted throughout the Southeast between 1968 and 2007. Three generations of enhanced seedlings were released over that 40-year period.

Pine plantations cover about 15 percent of forested land in the South. Each year, almost a billion loblolly pine seedlings are planted, typically taking 25 years to reach maturity.

“We’re reaping the benefits today of work our predecessors did, and our work will affect our children and grandchildren,” says co-author Dr. Steve McKeand, forestry professor and director of the Cooperative Tree Improvement Program, a public/private partnership founded in 1956.

The study marks one of the first attempts to quantify the effects of improved tree genetics on carbon sequestration across a large landscape, McKeand and King say.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Mike Aspinwall of the University of Texas at Austin, worked with McKeand and King while completing his doctorate at NC State.

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