Publication in: Fall 2022 Issue

Carbon Sequestration in the Face of Invasion: Invasive Species as a Threat to UNC Asheville’s Carbon Stock
Stephanie Meyers
Environmental Studies
Faculty Mentor(s):
Dee Eggers
Abstract / Summary:
Anthropogenic climate change is one of the greatest threats to this generation and is caused by increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). Excess CO2 is emitted through human activity involving the combustion of fossil fuels such as industrial manufacturing and vehicle use. The best defense mechanism against these heightened levels of greenhouse gases are trees and forests which take in CO2 from the air and convert it into breathable oxygen through photosynthesis. The additional carbon left over from this process will then be stored as biomass, so the longer a tree lives, the more carbon it can store. Unfortunately, the lives of many trees are being cut short due to the presence of exotic invasive plant species. The invasion of healthy native forests leads to an increase in tree deaths, which then releases any and all stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Thus, invasive plant species are indirectly contributing to climate change. The goal of this study was to determine how the presence of invasive species is threatening the trees of the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville and likewise, its carbon stock. To do this, five plots were selected in UNC Asheville’s South Campus Forest area. Each tree with a diameter at breast height of greater than 2.5 centimeters was measured as well as their geographic coordinates, which invasive species were growing nearby, and what percentage of the tree was covered in invasives. Trees were individually treated and invasive plants were removed throughout this project. Using the i-Tree Eco v6.0.29 software, current and future carbon storage and sequestration for each tree were calculated. It was found that these plots store a total of 26.27 metric tons of carbon and sequesters 0.895 metric tons of carbon annually. The trees measured in South Campus forest were most threatened by Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), English Ivy (Hedera helix), Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), and Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense). Additionally, it was found that invasive plants showed no discernable preference for smaller versus larger trees, so all trees are at equal risk of being invaded.
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