Western, Eastern Forests Increasingly Under Threat from Climate Change

Andrew Burger

Forestry researchers at Oregon State University and Duke University have found that the ranges of signature forest species in northwestern and eastern US forests are shrinking due to a variety of environmental changes induced by a warming climate.

Forestry researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have found that tree species in Northwest forests are migrating due to ecological and environmental changes induced by a changing climate. Some species of trees are disappearing from areas where they've thrived for centuries as a result of a warming climate, along with new and more intense insect attacks, diseases and fire, according to a Sustainable Business Oregon report.

Forests across North America are under increasing threats from climate change

Pine beetle outbreaks, fires and other ecological disturbances have on average pushed five species of Western conifers, including signature species such as the lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir - to into different habitats, according to aClimateWire report.

"We can't predict exactly which tree [species] will die or which one will take its place, but we can see the long-term trends and probabilities," Richard Waring, professor emeritus of forest ecology at OSU, said in a statement. "The forests of our future are going to look quite different."

More than half of the region's evergreen species will be increasingly threatened in coming decades, primarily dependent on each species' genetic diversity, according to the researchers.

The OSU researchers examined MODIS satellite images of Northwest forests taken between 2005 and 2009, along with climate data. They found a strong correlation between the percentage of tree species judged to be vulnerable and degree of climate change-induced threats to their survival, such as fires, beetle infestations, needle blight and others.

A record number of wildfires have hit forests in the study area, which extended from Northern California to British Columbia, this year. Forests in Arizona and Texas were affected by the largest wildfires in the states' histories.

In a previous study, Waring found that the lodgepole pine is particularly vulnerable to beetle outbreaks, and that its range is shrinking as such events are occurring more frequently and over a larger area.

Though much different in terms of ecology, a Duke University study released November 1 found that trees in Eastern forests are not adapting to climate change as quickly as predicted and that their geographic ranges are shrinking from both the north and south, according to an AccuWeather report.


Oceans & Forests