UBCO study suggests gardening method can fight climate change

Thinning climate change

New research from UBC Okanagan suggests the 'thinning' method used in backyard gardening could be beneficial in the fight against climate change.

According to professor Adam Wei, the thinning method sees the selective harvesting of a new crop to provide space for growth. It could positively impact the overall growing conditions of B.C.'s lodgepole pine stands.

Lodgepole pine are prolific growers and often become overcrowd, ultimately impacting growth. The more a forest is thinned makes it more resilient to climate change. 

“Our study presented the short-term benefits of the juvenile thinning in terms of increasing tree-level radial growth, sap flow and reducing stand-level water absorption and evaporation,” says Wei.

“While heavier thinning can mean more rigorous trees, it can also produce more ecological benefits, such as resistance to the effect of drought.”

Wei who teaches forest hydrology in the earth, environmental and geographic sciences department at UBCO says more rigorous forests and thinning of some trees is what the world needs to improve overall growing conditions of individual trees within overcrowded forests. 

Wei's research team helped him conduct a multi-year study including three blocks of trees at the upper Penticton experimental watershed.

After specific trees were harvested, the forest blocks were monitored for two years with researchers tracking tree diameter, sap flow, moisture retention and weather conditions.

“Our results generally agree with other studies showing that thinning can greatly increase tree-level radial growth while at the same time, decreasing stand-level transpiration due to the decrease in stand density,” says Wei.

The three study plots included one which was heavily harvested, one which was lightly harvested and one which was left alone. While trees obviously benefit from daylight and more space, the study revealed juvenile thinning mitigates effects of drought because fewer trees need water and moisture from the ground. 

Wei also noted the more heavily thinned stands maintained the highest tree growth and and best absorption during a drought year. This information can be useful in the future when it comes to creating management strategies for forests suffering from climate change.

Despite this, thinning trees may not be the answer for healthy forests. 

“Other forestry research has shown that tree species, the age at which forests are thinned, and the number of trees left after thinning all have a substantial effect on the health of the future forest and wood products, says Wei. “So forest management decisions on thinning must be made within a much broader context and take into consideration timber supply, forest health, carbon stocks, water conservation, wildfire risks and wildlife habitat.”

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