New Trees Will Rejuvenate Declining Midwestern Forests, Study Says

A new generation of native trees is poised to rejuvenate the aging forests in the U.S.’s Upper Great Lakes region, providing a critical source of carbon capture in the 21st century, according to a new study. While some research suggests that mature forests store less carbon over time, Ohio State University researchers say the aging trees across the upper Midwest — which they likened to baby Boomers — are being replaced with a more diverse and complex mix of trees. “They may even outdo the boomer generation and be more productive,” said Peter Curtis, an Ohio State professor and lead researcher. In a comprehensive study conducted in northern Michigan, scientists stripped the bark off thousands of aging trees to accelerate a generational shift, and then observed the characteristics of the trees replacing them. Among other preliminary findings, they determined that the canopy created by the new trees uses light more efficiently to produce carbohydrates and release oxygen than the canopy of their predecessors. And using sophisticated instruments, they found that nitrogen losses throughout the system were small even after the deaths of thousands of trees, suggesting that the forests will robustly regenerate and remain an effective carbon sink.