As state and local governments work to cut carbon emissions, efforts The Nature Conservancy supports, another tack in the fight against climate change is getting some valuable traction in Central Florida.
The Nature Conservancy and the University of Central Florida have teamed up to better understand carbon dynamics by measuring the amount of carbon stored in vegetation and soil.
A Carbon Laboratory
The Nature Conservancy’s 12,000-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve near Orlando will serve as the laboratory over the next several years as researchers measure the carbon stored in mature flatwood forests and in pasture recently restored but not yet mature.
“One way to reduce the amount of carbon in the air is to increase the capacity of the plants to take it in” said Doria Gordon, The Nature Conservancy’s senior ecologist and director of conservation science. “Our long-term goal is to add to that storage capacity by restoring bahiagrass pasture to pine flatwoods. We can then quantify the contribution of natural areas to carbon storage in Florida.”
The Conservancy and UCF researchers will start this effort by measuring the amount of carbon stored in mature longleaf pine flatwoods at The Disney Wilderness Preserve. Sensitive instruments will be secured to a tower reaching above the trees to collect weather, water, energy and carbon data. Dr. Ross Hinkle of UCF has already acquired some base data of how much carbon is stored in bahiagrass pasture.
Long-leaf pine flatwoods once dominated all of peninsula Florida. Despite Florida’s tremendous growth over the last few decades, a lot still remains. “As the state works to make decisions on how to meet carbon storage needs, it will be important to understand the value of these natural habitats,” Gordon said.
The Nature Conservancy and UCF will also work with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), as The Disney Wilderness Preserve was selected as one of the sites in Florida for data collection. The NEON program will provide the tower and instrumentation for data collection on carbon being sequestered in 5-6-year-old restored pasture that will be compared with that in the mature flatwoods. Data collected from the NEON tower location will also be compared with similar data collected in pine systems from southern Georgia and north central Florida.
“We are really proud of our new innovative research partnership with the University of Central Florida and excited that this program is part of the initiation of that relationship,” Gordon said.