This year marks the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, which began in Nebraska after the newly arrived settlers sorely felt the absence of trees — as windbreaks and shade, or as building material and fuel — in their new lives on the plains.
Now, communities across the country celebrate Arbor Day as a way to honor trees and the special role they play in the health and well-being of our communities and our environment.
At NIFA, trees and forests are seen as a critical natural resource. They serve vital environmental and economic needs, providing habitat for plants and animals, contributing raw materials for bioenergy production, and giving farmers opportunities to practice agroforestry.
NIFA is currently funding a number of research projects that seek to learn more about trees, from understanding how trees experience damage and disease to how we can better identify and grow them in the places where they’re most needed.
In many of these investigations, the specter of climate change is an ever-present theme.
According to USDA’s Climate Hubs, climate change will likely impact trees and forests across the country. Changes in temperature and precipitation, for example, could cause insects, wildfire, invasive plants and forest diseases to become more frequent in certain places. Reduced air quality from emissions that cause climate change may also add additional stress on trees.
The NIFA-funded projects below are a sample of the many projects either recently completed or currently underway that strengthen our stewardship of one of our most precious natural resources.
Protecting and nurturing trees and forests
- At West Virginia State University, Extension Agent Elizabeth Moss is developing online education programs to train new urban foresters and support community tree care initiatives. ($240,000)
- At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. John Orrock is collaborating with Gonzaga University’s Dr. Brian Connolly in leading a $500,000 project funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, or AFRI, to quantify the effects of invasive plants and plant-eating animals on managed forest ecosystems.
- Through a $650,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant, Isca Technologies Inc., of Riverside, California, is developing a pair of nontoxic repellents to shield both spruce and Douglas fir trees from bark beetle attack.
Navigating and adapting to climate change
- At Indiana University, researchers in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs are exploring how the timing of spring leaf emergence across species might affect tree growth and element cycling, knowledge that can help forest managers protect soil and water resources and mitigate climate change. ($112,000)
- At Chapman University, Dr. Gregory Goldsmith is leading a $200,000 project that seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how key tree species in the United States store water in wood, and to what extent that trait helps trees — or doesn’t — withstand drought.
- At the University of Maine, Dr. Allison Gardner is leading a $1.2 million project that is developing adaptive land management practices to protect private forest landowners, foresters and loggers from tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, which has experienced a five-fold increase in Maine over the last decade because of climate change.
Improving the science of tree crops
- At Washington State University, Dr. Achour Amiri is leading a $1.5 million project that will develop novel and more effective methods for organic growers to enhance the quality, safety and shelf life of tree fruit in the Pacific Northwest.
- In a $1 million project funded through the National Robotics Initiative 2.0, researchers at Montana State University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Davis, are developing a tree fruit harvesting method that uses of arrays of vision-guided linear robot arms.
- At the University of Florida, Dr. Zhonglin Mou is leading a $1.5 million research project that is developing a novel therapeutic strategy for trees infected with Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease.