Is What You See What You Get? Linking Forest Health to Wood Quality

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But can a piece of wood be judged by the tree it was cut from? Researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and the University of Georgia are working to find out.

Loblolly pine is widely planted in the southeastern United States. The plantations are highly productive, generating lumber for construction, and they are managed specifically to address increased population growth. This makes loblolly pine one of the most important tree species in the world in terms of wood use.

These weakened and dead loblolly pine trees show symptoms of southern pine decline.

These weakened and dead loblolly pine trees show symptoms of southern pine decline.

Recently, a phenomenon dubbed ‘southern pine decline’ (SPD) has contributed to high levels of tree mortality and decreased forest productivity. SPD is not entirely understood, but appears to be the result of a combination of physical and biological factors.

The forest industry has suggested that stands with symptoms of SPD have different weight scaling factors than stands not affected, and thus it appears that green moisture content is altered by SPD. Based on this observation, researchers are looking to determine whether trees affected by SPD have different wood density that would negatively affect the overall quality of the wood.

The project will involve studying trees from 14 stands in Alabama and Georgia, seven with SPD symptoms, and seven without. Trees will be selected from each stand, inspected for insect, disease, and fungal activity, and rated on their overall health. Cores (samples of wood) will also be taken from each tree and examined using various methods to determine moisture content and density. The data will then be analyzed to establish a link between wood quality and forest health.

For more details on this study, check out this Research in Progress report. The project is scheduled for completion in 2018.