Redwood trees in Huddart County Park. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The Save the Redwoods League is partnering with Google Earth Outreach and iNaturalist.org to connect citizens and scientists in an effort to track the effects of climate change on redwood trees and forests.
Redwoods have a relatively limited natural range, beginning in central California and spreading north through southern Oregon. Less than five percent of California’s original two million acre coast redwood forest remains, and giant sequoias are now found only in seventy-seven groves of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These majestic trees can live to be thousands of years old, grow hundreds of feet tall, and are among the planet’s largest and most ancient life forms.
However, scientists fear climate change may shift the redwoods’ natural range, posing the possibility that the trees will not grow within the current boundaries of protected areas in the future. Like animals, tree and plant species also migrate, albeit more slowly. As micro-climatic conditions become less tolerable, redwood seeds would fail to germinate in these locations but would sprout in other, previously unwelcoming areas. Over time, the species’ range will shift.
Scientists with the Save the Redwoods League are working to better understand the current climatic requirements of redwoods in order to predict where they may thrive in the future under changing temperature and moisture conditions. To do so, they are utilizing citizen scientists to assist with identifying redwood growth zones.
The Redwood Watch project invites the public to submit photos of redwoods—whether in their backyards, along roads, or in parks around the globe–through a free iPhone application powered by iNaturalist.org. Nature enthusiasts and redwood supporters can also submit their photos on the iNaturalist Redwood Watch webpage. Redwood sightings are compiled on a Google map, effectively providing a database of information for conservation scientists. Emily Limm, a scientist with the Save the Redwoods League, explains that citizen action to create a broad database of redwood locations is important because “we don’t yet know how climate change will impact the redwood forest, but when we understand where redwoods grow well today, we will be better able to predict where the redwood forests of tomorrow will thrive.”
To experience a redwood forest virtually, take a 3-D tour of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern California, a project of Google Earth Outreach and the Save the Redwoods League.
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