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Individual Highlight

Can Tree Species Rapidly Adapt to Climate Change by Migrating?

Photo of Distribution of forest inventory observations of seedlings (blue) and trees (red) for eastern red cedar in eastern U.S. forests:  (A) Time 1: all forest sites, (B) Time 2: non-disturbed forest sites, and (C) Time 2: disturbed forest sites. Christopher Woodall, USDA Forest ServiceDistribution of forest inventory observations of seedlings (blue) and trees (red) for eastern red cedar in eastern U.S. forests: (A) Time 1: all forest sites, (B) Time 2: non-disturbed forest sites, and (C) Time 2: disturbed forest sites. Christopher Woodall, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : New techniques to monitor tree ranges in forests of the eatern U.S. suggest that current ranges may not be shifting along their range margins in response to current climate change.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Woodall, Christopher W.  
Research Location : Research is done at a national level across the U.S.
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2013
Highlight ID : 462

Summary

Although past movement of tree species across large time scales, especially since the last ice age, is well-document, the question remains as to whether tree species can rapidly adapt by migrating in response to rapid future climate change. The monitoring of current tree ranges is limited by the lack of consistent data over the 1900s, leaving scientists with a short temporal scale over which to test hypotheses regarding shifting tree ranges. In lieu of tracking the distribution of mature trees to inform tree range boundary monitoring, related emerging research tracks demographic shifts within tree populations to inform contemporary range shift evaluations. Although prior research (Woodall et al. 2009) demonstrated that tree ranges may be more dynamic over short time scales than previously appreciated, Zhu et al. (2012) showed that there is no evidence yet that migration is happening across latitudinal scales, certainly not at the scale commensurate with climate change. If the margins of tree ranges remain static while regeneration fails within the range, then range contraction would occur (Woodall et al. 2013). Such a dynamic could be exacerbated by disturbance events that favor the regeneration of a limited set of tree species (Woodall et al. 2013). Even over the past decade, the abundance of tree regeneration in eastern U.S. forests has decreased (Woodall et al. 2013b) potentially limiting the ability of forests to adapt to potential climate change.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Christopher Oswalt
 

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