Forests are important carbon dioxide storage mechanisms, but a voracious leaf-eating caterpillar is cutting into the trees’ capacity to remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, according to new research by scientists at Princeton University, Rutgers University and the United States Forest Service.
The gypsy moth caterpillar, widespread in the northeastern United States, can wreak devastation on forests as it devours the leaves of oak, pine, and other tree species. The new research found that this defoliation has a significant detrimental effect on the ecosystem’s capacity to act as a carbon sink.
The study found that an oak-pine forest in the New Jersey pinelands hit by the gypsy moth every five years would store about one-third less of the above-ground carbon as an unharmed similar forest, according to David Medvigy, assistant professor of geosciences at Princeton University.
The research was conducted by Medvigy and Karina Schäfer, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Rutgers University as well as researchers from the US Forest Service: Kenneth Clark of the Silas Little Experimental Forest in New Jersey and Nicholas Skowronski of the Northern Research Station in West Virginia.
Citation: Medvigy, D., K. L. Clark, N. S. Skowronskiand and K. V. R. Schäfer. 2012. Simulated impacts of insect defoliation on forest carbon dynamics. Environ. Res. Lett. 7 045703