• Open Access

A landscape-based approach for assessing spatiotemporal impacts of forest biomass-based electricity generation on the age structure of surrounding forest plantations in the Southern United States


Correspondence: Puneet Dwivedi, tel. + 1 203 436 5362, fax + 1 203 436 9158, e-mail: puneetdwivedi@gmail.com


Forest plantations support several ecosystem services including biodiversity conservation. Establishment of a forest biomass-based industry could significantly change the age structure of forest plantations located in its vicinity and thus, could lead to a possible loss of biodiversity. Therefore, this study assesses spatiotemporal impacts of a forest biomass-based power plant on the age structure of surrounding forest plantations at landscape level. A cellular automata approach was adopted and interactions between economic objectives of forest landowners and a power plant owner punctuated by forest growth and management characteristics were considered. These spatiotemporal impacts were jointly assessed for four separate scenarios and four different power plant capacities using appropriate landscape-level indices. Slash pine (Pinus elliottiL.) was selected as a representative species. Results indicate that the age structure of surrounding forest plantations continuously fluctuates with respect to each year of power plant operation. However, the age structure, once disturbed, never becomes comparable to the original age structure. We also found that the mature plantations were harvested during early years of power plant operation and were never observed again for the remaining years of power plant operation. This was particularly true for high capacity power plants. Similarly, high value of selected spatial index at the end of power plant life for a high capacity power plant relative to the original low value of the same index indicates aggregation of remaining plantation ages at landscape level. Establishment of low capacity forest biomass-based power plants and adoption of an integrated regional level planning approach could help in maintaining original age structure characteristics of surrounding forest plantations to a large extent. This might help in sustaining various ecosystem services including biodiversity conservation obtained from forest plantations in a long run.