Trees ‘grow faster, store more carbon’


In a press release, issued via Newswise, Mitchigan Technological University researcher Dr Andrew Burton suggested that moderate climate change was beneficial for northern hardwood trees.

In a very brief notice of the findings, reproduced in its entirety below, it offers a very basic explanation of how a slight warming changes the growth dynamics of the trees:

More than 20 continuous years of research into the effects of climate and atmospheric pollution on forest productivity in the Great Lakes region indicate that moderate increases in temperature with sufficient moisture and increased nitrogen deposition have extended the growing season in northern hardwood forests, causing the trees to grow faster and to store more carbon.

Dr. Andrew Burton, director of the Midwestern Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research, can talk about his NSF-funded Michigan Gradient Study referenced above and the effects of temperature, moisture and acid rain on northern hardwood forests.

Tree Cover decided to attempt to find out more about this project and found an abstract for the project on the University’s website:

We will assess the degree to which temperature acclimation occurs in root systems of a variety of woody plants and determine if such acclimation is a short-term, direct physiological adjustment to warmer temperatures (days to months) or a longer term response to changes in nutrient, moisture and C availability and mycorrhizal status as the ecosystem adjusts to long-term warming (years).

Specific questions we will address include: Does rapid temperature acclimation occur in roots of large perennial woody plants? How do root biomass, root N concentration, and root respiration rates adjust to long-term changes in soil temperature and moisture and concomitant changes in N availability? How are rates of mycorrhizal infection influenced by the effects of warmer soil temperatures on host C balance and soil N availability? How do the short- and long-term responses of roots and mycorrhizae to warming and associated changes in soil nutrient cycling affect soil CO2 efflux and C availability for aboveground NPP? Are the interrelationships between warmer soil temperature regimes and C fluxes to and from roots and mycorrhizae adequately described by current ecophysiological models?

To understand both immediate and long-term effects, plots with 0 to 16 years of warming will be utilized. These include northern hardwood forests in Michigan, with warming to be initiated after a year of pre-treatment measurements; willow and alder in the shrub layer of a fen peatland in Michigan, with warming to be initiated in 2008; and mixed hardwoods at Harvard Forest that have been warmed since 1991, 2003 and 2006.

We will measure specific root respiration, root N concentration, root biomass, N mineralization, root N uptake, litter inputs, biomass increment, soil C content and mycorrhizal abundance, community composition and respiration. Treatments at the two Michigan locations include both soil warming and moisture manipulations, allowing us to examine the interaction of these two important global change factors.

We will know in the first year if rapid, physiological acclimation of root respiration occurs or if warming immediately alters mycorrhizal abundance. What may be of more importance are the amounts of C allocated to root respiration and mycorrhizal symbiosis that will exist in an ecosystem after N cycling, aboveground productivity, litter quantity, quality and decomposition, and microbial community composition and function have equilibrated to the altered climatic regimes. We will assess the interrelationships that exist between such processes and determine the factors that will ultimately control soil CO2 efflux and NPP in an altered climate.

However, there are no further details about the study’s findings, making it hard to know whether the project has completed gathering field data or whether this part of the research was ongoing. The abstract appears to have been uploaded on to the website in 2008.

It seems strange to release a statement saying “moderate climate change” was beneficial, especially when previous research papers have highlighted that forests are projected to responsed differently to a warming world, depending on what latitude they are located.

While there could be benefits to the region’s timber sector, it is seems bereft of key parameters – such as what extent of warming constitutes “moderate” warming, and to what degree is this warming projected to alter other factors, such as precipitation.

Also, in the context of the global carbon cycle, how does this degree of warming alter other carbon sinks – tropical forests, oceans etc – in  terms of sequestration; do we see a net increase or net decrease in the amount of atmospheric carbon being absorbed?

Looking forward to see more data on this interesting project being made available.

Source: MTU press release

Date: 17/10/2008

Researchers discover secret of plants’ ‘double fertilisation’ mystery


An enigma, unique to flowering plant, has been solved by a team of researchers from the UK and South Korea, reports Science Daily.

It was already known that flowering plants, unlike animals require not one, but two sperm cells for successful fertilisation.

However, how the “double fertilisation” was achieved from a single pollen grain, which then led to “twin” sperm cells, remained a mystery.

The process results in one sperm cell joining with the egg cell to produce the embryo, while the other to joins with a second cell in the ovary to produce the endosperm, a nutrient-rich tissue, inside the seed.

Double fertilisation is essential for fertility and seed production in flowering plants so increased understanding of the process is important.

Now Professor David Twell, of the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester and Professor Hong Gil Nam of POSTECH, South Korea, writing in the Journal Nature, report the discovery of a gene that has a critical role in allowing precursor reproductive cells to divide to form twin sperm cells.

Professor Twell said: “This collaborative project has produced results that unlock a key element in a botanical puzzle.

“The key discovery is that this gene, known as FBL17, is required to trigger the destruction of another protein that inhibits cell division,” he added.

“The FBL17 gene therefore acts as a switch within the young pollen grain to trigger precursor cells to divide into twin sperm cells.

“Plants with a mutated version of this gene produce pollen grains with a single sperm cell instead of the pair of sperm that are required for successful double fertilisation.

“Interestingly, the process employed by plants to control sperm cell reproduction was found to make use of an ancient mechanism found in yeast and in animals involving the selective destruction of inhibitor proteins that otherwise block the path to cell division.

“Removal of these blocks promotes the production of a twin sperm cell cargo in each pollen grain and thus ensures successful reproduction in flowering plants.

“This discovery is a significant step forward in uncovering the mysteries of flowering plant reproduction.

“This new knowledge will be useful in understanding the evolutionary origins of flowering plant reproduction and may be used by plant breeders to control crossing behaviour in crop plants.

“In the future such information may become increasingly important as we strive to breed superior crops that maintain yield in a changing climate.

“Given that flowering plants dominate the vegetation of our planet and that we are bound to them for our survival, it is heartening that we are one step closer to understanding their reproductive secrets.”

Researchers at the University of Leicester are continuing their investigation into plant reproduction.

Further research underway in Professor Twell’s laboratory is already beginning to reveal the answers to secrets about how the pair of sperm cells produced within each pollen grain aquires the ability to fertilise.

Prof Twell’s work, in the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester is financially supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC).

Source: Science Daily

Date: 23/10/2008

Row over when plants first emerged on Earth


Researchers taking a second look at ancient sediments have concluded that they do not represent the earliest traces of the rise of sun-fuelled photosynthesis/oxygen-producing organisms on Earth as previously thought, reports ScienceNOW website.

It says the findings come as a relief to some scientists, whose data had been in conflict with an earlier study with the same sediments that suggested oxygen first emerged in the planet’s atmosphere some 300 million years later.

According to the geological record, oxygen first rose in Earth’s atmosphere about 2.4bn years ago. The problem with using fossils to track down the organisms that gave rise to the oxygen is that fossils can take you back only about 2bn years out of the planet’s 4.5bn.

To figure out what was stirring before that, scientists must rely on traces of chemicals produced by biological processes and, by inference, in certain environmental conditions.

That’s what happened in 1999, when researchers examined samples of 2.7bn-year-old shale from Western Australia.

They found certain types of hydrocarbons that indicated oxygen-producing bacteria had existed at the time. But the discovery also created a conundrum, because it placed the rise of photosynthesis some 300m years before chemical studies of ancient rocks indicated oxygen began to spread in Earth’s atmosphere.

This discrepancy continues to bedevil researchers, who have struggled to mesh their data with evolutionary models.

An Australian team, writing in Nature, analysed microscopic solidified oil droplets contained in the shale, the researchers inferred the composition of the organic materials present as the shale formed.

The analysis clearly shows the hydrocarbons identified in the 1999 study could not have been derived from bacteria contained in the sediments, says geochemist and lead author Birger Rasmussen of the Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia.

Instead, they probably represent contaminants introduced from younger sedimentary rocks that somehow got mixed in with the shale layer or by the drills the researchers used to extract the samples, he says.

The conclusions are “pretty strong and a lot of eyes will be focused on how this shakes out,” says geobiologist Woodward Fischer of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, US.

He says the previous findings had been regarded as a standard time measurement for both the rise of oxygen and for photosynthetic organisms, and, therefore, any conflicting data produced by other researchers had been regarded as suspect.

But overall he’s convinced that the new results ultimately “will free up people’s minds again” to find the other sources of early oxygen.

Source: ScienceNOW

Date: 22/10/2008

Donors pledge $100m for tropical forest conservation


Donors meeting last week in Washington DC, US, pledged more than $100m (£50m) to the World Bank’s new initiative for conserving tropical forests, reports Mongabay.com.

In addition to the $100m in donations, the World Bank announced that more than 40 developing countries have asked to join the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility – the Bank’s foray into the emerging market for forest carbon credits.

Twenty-five countries have so far been selected to participate in the initiative, which builds capacity for countries to earn compensation through the carbon markets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

Experts say the mechanism could eventually lead to the transfer of billions of dollars per year to fund conservation and rural development in tropical countries, while at the same time helping fight climate change. Deforestation and land use change presently accounts for about one fifth of emissions from human activities.

The developing countries accepted into the facility include 10 in Africa (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Republic of Congo and Uganda); 10 in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru); and five in Asia and the South Pacific (Lao PDR, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Vietnam).

“The Congo Basin countries consider the FCPF as an opportunity to validate reducing forest degradation as a climate change mitigation instrument” said Etienne Makaga, director-general of L’Environnement du Gabon and Climate Focal Point.

“With the FCPF, forests will find their true role as carbon pools and providers of social and economic well-being. The FCPF is not a solution in and of itself. It must remain a structuring tool that will allow us to achieve the objectives of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”

The World Bank also announced the election of the FCPF Participants Committee, a group consisting of 10 donor and carbon fund participants and 10 developing country participants.

The committee’s first decision was to establish a small grants program for forest-dependent indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers to benefit from REDD via the FCPF.

The decision – though initially funded with just $1m – seeks to address the criticism that the REDD process doesn’t involve indigenous people, a charge that has been a major stumbling block in negotiations to date.

The governing panel of the partnership includes nineteen countries – Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, UK, US and Vietnam – and one NGO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which donated $5m.

“It is heartening to know that despite the current financial situation, countries around the world understand that we cannot delay action on battling climate change,” said Mark Tercek, president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy.

“Forest protection is one of the most cost-effective methods available to fight climate change. If we don’t take action now, climate change ultimately will have a much greater impact on the global economy and the natural resources we all depend upon for survival.”

“Right now, developing countries can generate more money from cutting down their forests than from keeping them standing,” Tercek continued.

“The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility will bring developed and industrialized countries together – along with forest communities, indigenous groups, the private sector and civil society – to establish a financial value for the carbon stored in standing forests.”

The FCPF expects to raise more funds from governments, NGOs, and the private sector in coming months. Participants in the meeting said they are encouraged by the progress to date.

“It is very encouraging to note the enthusiasm for REDD among such a large number of developing countries,” said Per Pharo, deputy director Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.

“Especially in light of the close cooperation being established between the World Bank and the UN REDD Program, we are very happy with how this is evolving. It is essential that REDD countries remain in the driver’s seat, and that all stakeholders are involved going forward.”

“I am impressed by the level of interest expressed in the FCPF by developing countries,” said Katherine Sierra, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development division’s vice president.

“We thought 20 would be a reasonable target, but more than 40 countries have said they were interested. Countries are investing considerable time and resources to prepare themselves for REDD, and they should be commended for taking these steps.”

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/10/2008

Forest diversity ‘stems from specialisation’


The rich diversity of trees in tropical forests may be “the result of subtle strategies that allow each species to occupy its own ecological niche” rather than random dispersal, Mongabay.com reports.

Studying the traits of trees in Yasuni forest in Ecuador, Nathan Kraft and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, found evidence to support the theory that “niche separation” – subtle habitat specialisations among species – drives tree diversity in the rainforest.

The researchers’ findings challenge the recent hypothesis of “neutral theory”, which attributes community composition to chance.

“If the neutral theory is correct, we would expect these traits to be distributed at random throughout the forest, but that was not the case,” said Renato Valencia, professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and lead investigator at the Yasuni forest plot, which is associated with the Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network.

“The traits we measured give us important clues about the strategy of each species in the forest – how they make a living – if you will.

“One exciting thing that we found is that trees growing near each other tend to make a living in different ways from their neighbors,” explained Dr Kraft, from UC Berkeley.

“This is a common pattern in less diverse communities, but it is hard to imagine in a hyper-diverse forest like Yasuni.”

The scientists plan to continue their research at Yasuni and other sites to better understand the patterns of biodiversity around the world.

The Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network includes more than 30 forest dynamics plots in 17 countries.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 24/10/2008

UK weather sparks autumn spectacular


Parks and forests in the UK are making up for the miserable summer by providing visitors with spectacular autumn leaf displays, experts say.

A report on the BBC News website said that public gardens have been carpeted in an array of deep red and yellow leaves, thanks to the year’s unusual weather.

Experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, say a wet summer, followed by mild frost and some warm September days, were perfect for the display.

American oaks, ash, and sweet gum trees provide some of the best colours.

Tony Kirkham, Kew’s head of arboretum, said the wet summer provided good growing conditions for the trees.

An unusual mild frost on 28 September then helped the leaves turn to gold.

He said: “In September, we had some cold temperatures in the evening and warm, sunny days.

“The mild frost acts as an early warning to the trees to shut down for winter, so they can take some of the goodness out of the leaves and you get the good colours.

“If you get a long frost, they don’t get a chance to do that and the leaves fall quickly.”

“We have a real variety of trees in Kew, so you get a rainbow of colours but we seem to be getting good autumn colour all over the country.”

The National Trust says its gardens such as Sheffield Park in East Sussex and Stourhead in Wiltshire are attracting many visitors, keen to see the displays.

Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust says the wet summer has been good for nature, providing an abundance of fungi and berries for birds to feed on ahead of the winter.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/10/2008

Forest peoples’ rights key to reducing emissions


Unless based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities, efforts by rich countries to combat climate change by funding reductions in deforestation in developing countries will fail, and could even unleash a devastating wave of forest loss, cultural destruction and civil conflict, publication Science Letter reports.

Leading forestry and development experts gathered in Oslo with policymakers and community leaders for a conference on rights, forests and climate change. The conference was organized by two non-profits, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the US-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Speaking at the meeting, Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, said efforts towards reduced emissions from deforestation in developing countries needed to be based on the rights of indigenous peoples to the forests they depend on for their livelihoods, and provide tangible benefits consistent with their essential role in sustainable forest management.

“In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, early action, pilot projects and demonstrations should safeguard biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and secure the rights of forest dependent communities in order to achieve any degree of permanence, legitimacy and effectiveness,” said Mr Solheim.

Deforestation is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest ways of cutting emissions.

“Moves to finance reductions in tropical deforestation and forest degradation are necessary and welcome,” said Andy White, Coordinator of RRI.

“But on their own they won’t solve the problem. Poorly devised, they could even make it worse. If such initiatives are well designed they can not only secure carbon but present a global opportunity to address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict in many developing countries.”

Globally, climate change negotiators are considering the introduction of a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), that could generate billions of dollars for reducing forest loss in the tropics.

Meanwhile, Norway’s government has already pledged up to 3bn Norwegian kroner annually (US$500m/£250m) to cut emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries.

“To achieve long-term reductions in deforestation and forest degradation, it is absolutely necessary to respect and strengthen the rights of indigenous and other forest dependent communities,” said Lars Lovold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

“Many of these schemes are still being developed, and major decisions on how to spend the money will be made in the next few years. For us, the question is whether this money will result in a great deal of good or a great deal of harm to the environment and forest communities.”

Previous attempts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation have largely failed, often due to a lack of attention to human rights, property rights and transparency.

Source: Science Letter

Date: 28/10/2008

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UPDATED ON 27 OCTOBER, 2008

Luke from Rights and Resources Initiative has kindly highlighted that the Oslo conference was covered on the Rights, Forests and Climate Change site.  It is packed with more details and outcomes from the week-long gathering, so please do take a moment to visit the site.

Thanks, Take Cover team

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