Some trees may migrate slower in response to climate change
August 8, 2006
Genetic analysis of living spruce trees suggests that trees cannot migrate in response to climate change as quickly as some scientists believed.
The study, published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the migration rate of White spruce (Picea glance) at the end of the last Ice Age the was lower than previously thought.
"Our results suggest that estimated rates of tree migration from fossil pollen records are too high and that the ability of trees to keep pace with global warming is more limited than previously thought," said Feng Sheng Hu, an ecologist at Illinois and co-author of the paper. "Additional analysis of fossil pollen in sediments, as well as DNA data from living trees, could help pin down the actual rate of tree movement over time."
The data also "illustrate the great resilience of white spruce — and perhaps other tree species — to climate change," and may have important implications for the future.
"For example, isolated populations of trees might persist in locally suitable habitats for long periods after regional climatic conditions have become unfavorable as a result of rapid global warming. This resilience might reduce the probability of species extinction and allow time for efforts at biodiversity conservation," explained a release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
But the researchers warn that this may not necessarily be the case should humans continue to disrupt nature.
"Our study looked at the past, before humans had made any significant impact on climate," said Hu. "In the future, both human and natural disturbances will likely interact with climate change to reduce resilience and trigger larger ecological shifts."
This article is based on a release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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