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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Sustainability of Water and Nutrient Use in Short Rotation Forest Crops for Biofuels and Bioproducts

Director’s Choice
Forest Service technician using a tool to measure photosynthesis on a eucalyptus tree

Forest Service technician measuring photosynthesis on a young Eucalyptus benthamii tree. Photo by Chris Maier, USDA Forest Service.


Purpose-grown trees can be part of the bioenergy solution in the southern U.S. where plantation forestry is prevalent and economically important. Short rotation woody crops (SRWC) are potentially an environmentally acceptable and economically sustainable method of producing wood for of bioenergy, biofuels, and bioproducts, as well as for traditional solid wood and fiber. However, production of SRWC will likely be located on marginal sites that may face challenges from nutrient management, water resource availability, and climate change.


There is renewed effort in examining a variety of SRWC including Pinus, Populus, and Eucalyptus for bioenergy production in the southern US. An economically viable and ecologically resilient bioenergy industry will require SRWC that can tolerate climate extremes such as multi-year droughts or tropical storms and appropriately apportion nutrient and water resources. Traditional forest management focused on wood products and fiber. These crops require long rotations of 10 to 100 years depending on species, site, and management. However, SRWC typically have short rotations – less than 10 years.

Management of nutrients, water, and competition will differ from traditional silvicultural systems and could result in environmental changes onsite such as changes in nutrient and water availability. There could also be off-site effects such as reduced water yield. For example, our results suggest that young Eucalyptus plantations have greater water use efficiency than pine; however, because of greater growth, the potential total water use will be higher. Furthermore, Eucalyptus will be managed on shorter rotations (6 to 8 years) and will have greater cumulative water use over successive rotations compared to pine with longer rotations (15 to 25 years).

Thus, species conversion from pine to Eucalyptus may adversely affect offsite water yield. This could have implications for ground water reserves in ecologically sensitive areas. Our research will focus on management practices that maximize the sustainability potential of SWRC, including productivity and ecosystem services such as nutrient use, water use, and water quality.

Principal Investigator
Chris A. Maier, Team Leader/Research Biological Scientist
4160 - Forest Genetics and Ecosystems Biology
Strategic Program Area
Resource Management and Use
Biomass and nutrient mass of Acacia dealbata and Eucalyptus globulus bioenergy plantations
Comparative water use in short-rotation Eucalyptus benthamii and Pinus taeda trees in the southern United States
CompassLive Story
Eucalyptus or Loblolly: Which Uses More Water?
External Partners
Tim Albaugh, Virginia Tech
Elizabeth Nichols, Solomon Ghezehei, Denis Hazel, Rachel Cook, North Carolina State University
Rafael Rubilar, University of Concepción, Concepción, Chile