Plants may offer our best hope of removing greenhouse gases (gases that contribute to global warming) emitted to the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. At the same time, global warming could change environments so that natural plant communities will either need to shift into cooler climate zones, or become extirpated (Prasad and Iverson, 1999; Crumpacker and others, 2001; Davis and Shaw, 2001). It is impossible to know the future, but studies combining field observation of production and modeling can help us make predictions about what may happen to these wetland communities in the future.
Widespread wetland types such as baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) swamps in the southeastern portion of the United States could be especially good at carbon sequestration (amount of CO2 stored by forests) from the atmosphere. They have high levels of production and sometimes store undecomposed dead plant material in wet conditions with low oxygen, thus keeping gases stored that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere (fig. 1).
To study the ability of baldcypress swamps to store carbon, our project has taken two approaches. The first analysis looked at published data to develop an idea (hypothesis) of how production levels change across a temperature gradient in the baldcypress region (published data study). The second study tested this idea by comparing production levels across a latitudinal range by using swamps in similar field conditions (ongoing carbon storage study). These studies will help us make predictions about the future ability of baldcypress swamps to store carbon in soil and plant biomass, as well as the ability of these forests to shift northward with global warming.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Latitudinal Variation in Carbon Storage Can Help Predict Changes in Swamps Affected by Global Warming