Texas AgriLife Research genetics team to study effects of climate change on forests

COLLEGE STATION – Scientists from Texas AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the department of ecosystem science and management at Texas A&M University are part of a $20 million federal grant to study the effects of climate change on agricultural production.

Among the team’s main objectives are studying the loblolly pine’s genetic adaptation to potential climate change. Scientists anticipate the research will lead to developing a new seed deployment tool that will help reduce the negative effects of a potentially warmer and drier climate in the southeastern U.S.

Genetics Team

Drs. Tom Byram, Carol Loopstra and Kostya Krutovsky will be the genetics team.


Jim Gan

Dr. Jim Gan



Jason Vogel

Dr. Jason Vogel

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded three Coordinated Agriculture Projects to study the effects of climate change on agriculture and forest production.

“Climate change has already had an impact on agriculture production,” said director Roger Beachy, in a statement. “Going forward, agriculture producers need sound scientific information to plan and make decisions to ensure their economic viability.”

The genetics team members from AgriLife Research and ecosystem science and management are Drs. Tom Byram, Carol Loopstra and Kostya Krutovsky.

Dr. Jianbang Gan, AgriLife Research scientist and ecosystem science and management specialist in forest management and policy, will examine the economic outcomes of climate change. Dr. Eric Taylor, forestry specialist, will be the co-leader for AgriLife Extension and the outreach group. Dr. Jason Vogel, ecosystem science and management researcher, will examine forestry practices.

According to researchers, genetics analysis will be used to characterize important adaptation and mitigation traits to support future breeding efforts. The genetics program will support development of growth and yield models and stand-level biophysical carbon balance modeling. It also will help develop multi-scale policy and economic analysis of market and non-market forest benefits and services, and an education program to deliver state-of-the-art forest management solutions.

The group will assist collaborators at sister organizations in meeting these objectives through a local genetics team, according to the scientists.

Vogel is researching forestry practices in managed loblolly pine forests to identify those that will increase forest production and the capture of carbon while also increasing resistance to the potential negative effects of climate change.

“In addition, the cycling of important plant nutrients will be examined as these vary with common forestry practices (fertilization, weed control) so that practices can be recommended that preserve or increase long-term forest productivity,” Vogel said. “Their goal is to maximize the benefits and stability of these forests as we enter a century of potentially rapid changes in climate.”

Gan’s work will focus on assessing the risk and economic consequences of climate-induced disturbances such as wildfire and southern pine beetle outbreaks under global climate change.

“These are specifically very sensitive to climate change, especially with the temperature going up in the South,” Gan said. “I’ve done economic analysis research in the past several years on the southern pine beetle. I will try to expand that working area on adaptation and hope these results will go into help alleviate some of these impacts. This research will also look at some possible changes in management practices.”

The southern pine beetle would cause annual economic losses of $500 million to $870 million to southern U.S. timber production if predicted climate change occurs, Gan said.

The project’s AgriLife Extension goal is to disseminate and demonstrate the current and emerging knowledge, practices and tools developed by the team.

“This task will not only be accomplished through traditional Extension programming efforts, but also by creatively leveraging modern forms of information technology, communication and social networking,” Taylor said. “The primary components of our dissemination and training effort will be materials development, a landowner-oriented decision support system, building technology assisted training and outreach mechanisms, and assessment and evaluation.”

For more information about the department of ecosystem science and management, visit http://essm.tamu.edu/ .

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