Migrating Trees

Forests Shift West with Climate Change




WathanyuSowong/Shutterstock.com

The consequences of climate change are impacting plant species in unanticipated, but logical ways; for instance, conifers and other needle trees are moving northward because they are more sensitive to temperature than flowering, deciduous trees. They already populate the boreal forest of eastern North America, so they’re well-adapted to expand into colder, drier conditions.

Individual trees can’t move, but populations can shift over time as saplings expand into a new region while older growth dies in another. A new study published in Science Advances also shows that about three-quarters of tree species common to eastern American forests, including white oaks, sugar maples and American holly, have shifted their population centers westward since 1980 due to drier conditions in the East.

Global warming has significantly altered rainfall totals. Songlin Fei, a professor of forestry at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, and one of the study authors, observes, “Different species are responding to climate change differently. Most of the broadleaf species of deciduous trees are following moisture that’s moving westward.”

Changes in land use, conservation efforts, wildfire frequency and the arrival of pests and blights all play parts in shifting populations. Forest ecosystems are defined as much by the mix of species and the interaction between them as by the simple presence of many trees. If different species migrate in different directions, then ecological communities could eventually collapse.


This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Bug Apocalypse

The number of invertebrates and insects such as moths, butterflies and bees has dropped worldwide by 45 percent in the last 35 years, raising alarm about the global ecosystem.

Fish Revival

Following the removal two years ago of an obsolete dam, shad have returned to New Jersey’s Millstone River for the first time since 1845.

Horse Sense

The wild horse herds on North Carolina’s Outer Banks survived Hurricane Florence by huddling on high ground, hiding in maritime forests, and possibly by swimming.

Bat Cave Rescue

A fungus known as white-nose syndrome is decimating U.S. bat species, but scientists hope that genetic strategies and cave treatments will turn the situation around.

Mind Meld

Scientists are making progress toward using brain implants to help speech-paralyzed patients "voice" their thoughts.

Add your comment: