Monday, 29 May 2017

America's trees are fleeing north and west as climate changes but some may not survive

Researchers warns of 'significant ecological consequences and possible extinction' of some types of tree

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent
Thursday 18 May 2017 16:55 BST

The trees of America are on the march.

Driven by changes in temperature and moisture, 65 per cent of more than 86 different tree species surveyed in the eastern US were found to be ‘moving’ west – gradually shifting their range as new trees are seeded – by researchers.

Some 55 per cent of the species had headed north, the scientists reported in the journal Science Advances.

They said some of the changes were similar to ones that took place between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.

But they added: “The historical process took place over several thousand years, whereas the observed shift in this study happened in a few decades, suggesting the impacts of recent climate change … on vegetation dynamics.”

Other non-climatic factors, such as land use change and forest management, may have also played a part, cautioned the researchers, from the universities of Purdue, North Carolina State and Tennessee as well as the US Forest Service.

The trees were moving west more quickly than north.

On average over the last 30 years, they moved 15.4km per decade west, compared to 11km per decade north. Thirty-seven per cent of species moved northwest, while just two per cent headed southeast.

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