Fourteen Duke University researchers found that all U.S. forests are under growing stress from climate change, droughts, and rising temperatures that we all have been witnessing in recent years.
James S. Clark, senior researcher involved in the study and environmental science expert at Duke, explained that in the last 20 years, rising temperatures coupled with variable rainfall and snowfall worsened forest droughts in almost all U.S. forested areas.
Clark noted that while forests in the West were hit the hardest by shifting temperatures, all other forests of the U.S. are under a growing stress from droughts and global warming which make them more likely to decline.
Still, Clark’s team acknowledged that they lack the necessary data to assess how bad the decline would be because they do not yet know how fast forests can adapt to quick changes. The team said that it is difficult to say which forests will be there over the next two to four decades.
But U.S. forests have been under a lot of stress in recent years due to droughts, parasite infestations and large scale wildfires especially in the West. Plus, climate scientists predict that the droughts may get even worse across the entire nation in the next decades.
Additionally, climate change effects are affecting upper latitudes at a faster rate than forests can adapt. Clark explained that forests can not adjust fast enough to survive. Especially the tree populations in the East need many years to expand to more habitable locations by natural means.
The study was published Feb 22 in the online issue of the journal Global Change Biology.
The study is in fact an analysis of hundreds of research papers on how prolonged droughts and climate change can affect U.S. forests on the long term. Clark noted that there is enough research on how climate change and rising temperatures affect individual tree species, but little is known about the impact on forest systems.
The team explained that hundreds of studies focused on how separate species respond to stress form rising temperatures, droughts and parasites. But little research was conducted to understand species-wide changes triggered by these phenomena in the Eastern forests.
Duke researchers believe that their findings are crucial to help authorities better manage forests and preserve fragile ecosystems. This is why the team calls for more research on the impacts of drought and climate change on tree populations as a whole.
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