Research Projects

Functional Diversity, Rehabilitation, and Ecosystem Service Resilience In The Northern Forest. Recent decades have seen extensive ownership turnover and changes in markets in the Northern Forest of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, a region experiencing numerous forest health threats. These changes have prompted concern about the sustainability of forest harvesting practices in the region, which is dominated by complex, naturally-regenerated forests. This recent history suggests that the ability to provide other ecosystem services may also be compromised, and a significant fraction of the forested area can be considered as degraded. However, the complexity of species composition and ecosystem services in the region makes a species-by-species approach to rehabilitation challenging. 

In this project, we will build, test, and evaluate a rehabilitation framework constructed around the concepts of functional trait-ecosystem service associations, functional diversity and resilience. Our overarching goal is to describe new and alternative management approaches that will increase ecosystem health and resilience, while enhancing long-term productivity of high-value timber, and provide enhanced greenhouse gas sequestration opportunities in the Northern Forest Region. We use existing and new field data to address four main objectives: evaluate functional diversity in the tree community, evaluate functional diversity among forest birds and small mammals, integrate community linkages and ecosystem functions, and provide management recommendations. Our project combines foundational research with the assessment of management practices for rehabilitation that will enhance productivity and the value and resiliency of ecosystem services on millions of acres in the Northern Forest. 2020-2024

Collaborators:  Dr. Mark Ducey (PI), Dr. Rebecca Rowe (co-PI), and Dr. John Gunn (co-PI). M.S. student Mike Thomposon.

Optimized Management Strategies to Support Bioenergy Feedstock Yield and Ecosystem Services in Disturbed And Degraded Forest Ecosystems. Managing forest ecosystems for simultaneous provisioning of multiple ecosystem services is challenging.  Many forest systems show symptoms of degradation and loss of resiliency. We focus on two contrasting forest ecoregions- degraded Northeastern forests, and disturbed Northern Rockies forests, with shared challenges and opportunities for bioenergy production, traditional high-value forest products, climate regulation services, and wildlife habitat. The central aim of the Eco-Opt (Ecosystem Service Optimization) project is to co-develop decision support tools with forest managers to enhance forest health and resiliency in the context of multiple demands on forest ecosystems. Stakeholders, including tribal forest managers and tribal members, private forest owners and managers, consulting and extension foreconceptual dashboardsters, public natural resource agency staff, and bioenergy sector consumers of woody feedstocks will be engaged from the beginning to the end of the Eco-Opt project. Our overall goal is to conduct foundational research on the impacts of utilizing biomass energy feedstocks from degraded and disturbed forests on other ecosystem services, and to co-develop decision-making tools with land managers for optimizing tradeoffs between biomass energy feedstock production and other ecosystem services. The project will use existing forest inventory data to model the bioenergy potential of feedstocks derived from degraded and disturbed forests, while enhancing other ecosystem services. This project and its objectives are primarily focused on the Sustainable Agroecosystems: Functions, Processes and Management priority (A1401) within the Bioenergy, Natural Resources and the Environment program area of the USDA AFRI Foundational Program.  2019-2023

Collaborators: Dr. Ashley Ballantyne (Univ. of Montana), Dr. Mark Ducey (UNH), Dr. Thomas Buchholz (Univ. of Montana), and Robert Kenning (Salish Kootenai College)

Injapanese_knotweedvasive plant impacts on New Hampshire forest ecosystem services. Invasive non-native plants lead to significant financial and ecological damage to forest systems and are likely to increase in scale and severity under a warming New Hampshire climate. Ecosystem services such as timber product outputs and carbon sequestration can be influenced by non-native plant invasions and present challenges to forest managers. Outcomes of this project will provide a statewide assessment of the status and distribution of invasive plant species throughout New Hampshire that pose the greatest threat to forest systems. The project will also provide an evaluation and quantification of the stand- and landscape-level factors that increase forest resistance to colonization by invasive plants. Based on these factors, management best practice guidelines will be produced to help foresters and landowners minimize the risk of invasive plant species invasion into native forest stands.  This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire-Stennis Project #1010675 (2016-2019). This project is continuing in 2020-2021 through a collaboration with Dr. Nathan Furey of UNH Department of Biological Sciences. The new work is exploring the potential impacts of Japanese knotweed invasions on stream habitat quality. We are also investigating how knotweed moves through the stream system using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to map current populations (with M.S. student Molly Yanchuck and Dr. Russ Congalton).

Related Publications: Hammer, C.F., and J.S. Gunn. In Review (June 2020). The Impacts of Terrestrial Invasive Plants on Streams and Riparian Forests in Northern New England. Biological Invasions.

Science-based rehabilitation of New Hampshire’s forests through targeted outreach to landowners in key watersheds. More than a third of New Hampshire’s forests are in a degraded and understocked condition following widespread timber harvesting practices that did not consider the long-term value of the resource. This understocked condition presents economic challenges to current landowners and has implications for the supply of young and old forest habitat conditions for many songbird species that are in regional and global decline. NH forest stockingFurthermore, understocked and degraded forests are not being maximized for their important climate mitigation potential through the long-term storage of carbon. An analysis of forest management pathways for understocked stands will be done to understand how foresters and landowners might rehabilitate their property to conditions that meet a range of economic, wildlife habitat, and climate objectives. Existing inventory data from the US Forest Service and supplemental landowner specific data from our collaborating landowner will be used to model different management regimes. Results will be expressed in terms of the various management decisions that can be made and will highlight the implications for revenue, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage. Outcomes will be developed into communication materials for UNH Cooperative Extension forestry staff for use with landowners and foresters in workshops and one-on-one interactions in focal watersheds. Demonstration management activities will be implemented on our collaborator’s land to showcase the most effective practices. This work is supported by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s New England Forest and Rivers Fund (2017-2019). 

Related Publications:

Gunn, J.S., M.J. Ducey, and E. Belair. 2019. Evaluating forest degradation in a North American Temperate Forest. Forest Ecology and Management 432: 415-426.

Past Projects

Silvicultural Strategies for Mitigating Northern Forest Carbon Reversal Due To Spruce Budworm (SBW). The goal of this project is to provide concrete guidance on silvicultural options for mitigating an anticipated SBW outbreak in the Northern Forest region, with particular attention to the C consequences of those options and the risk of disturbance-initiated C reversal.  Supporting objectives include: 1) Develop prSBW_carbonojections of future forest and wood-in-use C pools for FIA plots and re-measured old-growth plots in the Northern Forest region, under alternative management strategies and SBW attack outcomes; 2) Evaluate the influence of initial stand conditions and probability of SBW attack on optimal C strategies and the tradeoffs associated with alternative choices; and, 3) Assess the carbon offset market transaction feasibility of implementing strategies for avoiding or mitigating SBW-associated C reversal. Lead PI is Dr. Mark Ducey (UNH). This work was supported by a grant from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative.

Related Publications:

Gunn, J.S., M. J. Ducey, T. Buchholz, and E. Belair. 2020. Forest Carbon Resilience of Eastern Spruce Budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) Salvage Harvesting in the Northeastern United States. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 3:14.   


Latest News

Nova Scotia Budworm Trees

Long-Term Greenhouse Gas Benefits from Salvaging Dead Trees Balance Short-Term Excess Emissions

April 13, 2020

The next major eastern spruce budworm outbreak likely will hit Northeastern United States forests over the next few years, putting more than 11.4 million acres of forest and 94.8 million metric tons of stored carbon in spruce and balsam fir at risk. While salvaging these trees for energy or lumber increases carbon dioxide emissions in the short-term, New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers have found that certain forest management practices result in long-term benefits that can balance these short-term setbacks.


Read more about Long-Term Greenhouse Gas Benefits from Salvaging Dead Trees Balance Short-Term Excess Emissions