Forests not adapting to climate change

More than half of eastern U.S. tree species aren’t adapting to climate change as quickly or consistently as predicted, according to a new Duke University-led study.

“Many models have suggested that trees will migrate rapidly to higher latitudes and elevations in response to warming temperatures, but evidence for a consistent, climate-driven northward migration is essentially absent in this large analysis,” said James S. Clark, H.L. Blomquist Professor of Environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Nearly 59 percent of the species examined by Clark and his colleagues showed signs that their geographic ranges are contracting from both the north and south.

Fewer species – only about 21 percent – appeared to be shifting northward as predicted.

About 16 percent seemed to be advancing southward, and around 4 percent appeared to be expanding in both directions.

The scientists analysed data on 92 species in more than 43,000 forest plots in 31 states.

The study found no consistent evidence that population spread is greatest in areas where climate has changed the most; nor do the species’ response patterns appear to be related to seed size or dispersal characteristics.

“Warm zones have shifted northward by up to 100 kilometres in some parts of the eastern United States, but our results do not inspire confidence that tree populations are tracking those changes. This increases the risk of serious lags in tree migrations,” stated Clark.

The findings were published in the journal Global Change Biology this month.

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