June 10, 2009

Chestnut trees might slow climate change

A U.S. study shows introducing a hybrid of the American chestnut tree would not only help the nearly extinct species, but also reduce atmospheric carbon.

Purdue University Associate Professor Douglass Jacobs said the study found American chestnuts grow much faster and larger than other hardwood species, allowing them to sequester more carbon. And since American chestnut trees are more often used for high-quality hardwood products such as furniture, they hold the carbon longer than wood used for paper or other low-grade materials.

Maintaining or increasing forest cover has been identified as an important way to slow climate change, said Jacobs. "The American chestnut is an incredibly fast-growing tree. Generally the faster a tree grows, the more carbon it is able to sequester "¦ (and) the carbon can be stored in hardwood products for decades.

At the beginning of the last century, chestnut blight caused by a fungus spread throughout the American chestnut's natural range, decimating the species.

New efforts to hybridize the remaining American chestnuts with blight-resistant Chinese chestnuts have resulted in a species that's about 94 percent American chestnut, but with the protection found in the Chinese species. Jacobs said those new trees could be ready to plant within the next decade.

He and his colleagues report their research in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.