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James Raich, Botany, (515) 294-5073
Ann Russell, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, (515) 294-7669
Bridget Bailey, ISU News Service, (515) 294-6881


AMES, Iowa -- Two researchers at Iowa State University are searching for a way to restore forest systems to help slow the process of global warming.

Ann Russell, affiliated assistant professor of natural resource ecology and management, and James Raich, associate professor of botany, will conduct a tree production-based research project in lowland Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a prime location for Raich and Russell's study because trees grow quickly in its tropical climate; however, they said the research could be beneficial in any climate.

"Increased plant uptake of carbon dioxide could offset the excess carbon dioxide being produced by fossil fuel burning, and thus improve conditions that would otherwise lead to global warming," Raich said. "Better management of forest plantations will also reduce pressure on adjacent forests and provide refuge for native forest species, and thus promote conservation of biodiversity in tropical forests."

Raich and Russell said their fundamental goal is to investigate the extent to which individual tree species differ, how they influence the carbon cycle and the nutrients in reforested land through field and laboratory research.

Russell said their research in tropical tree plantations focuses on a fundamental aspect of crop production -- combining the need for an abundance of trees while preserving the quality of soil.

"One affordable approach is to select crop species, trees in this case, that return residues to the soil that promote both soil fertility and storage of organic matter," Russell said.

Raich and Russell said this approach requires a better understanding of the basic biology of individual species; for example, biological functions related to the production of leaves and roots by trees. They will search for soil components that influence nutrient release and stabilize the organic matter found in soil.

Raich and Russell said better knowledge of these topics will help restore degraded landscapes and increase productivity in forest systems, without the use of fertilizers.

The U.S. National Science Foundation provided Iowa State with $500,000 for a three-year study.


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