A recent report on the effects of incoming droughts on the forests and rangelands shows that worsening droughts may escalate into spirals of death across the West.
Investigators at the U.S. Forest Service found that droughts’ impact on wildlife, plants and ecosystems may be worse than anticipated as more drier and extreme weather conditions apparently became the new normal in some parts of the nation.
According to the report, droughts could trigger unprecedented insect outbreaks, harder to contain wildfires, and massive tree die-offs across California and the West. Toral Patel-Weynand, one of the authors of the report, explained that droughts and other extreme weather conditions could accelerate death rate of trees and shrub vegetation.
The study, which was released Monday, was carried out by 77 experts working with the Forest Service, conservationist groups, and universities. The team’s goal was to help rangeland managers take the best long-term solutions to shield the nation’s 193 million acres of forest against the effects of climate change.
Droughts which are one of the most significant effects of rising global temperatures had some impact on the Southeast, but the bulk of the problems occurred in the West, especially in California, which hosts 21 million acres of forest.
These problems often translate into more damaging and costly wildfires, forested areas destroyed by swarms of insects, and an unprecedented rise in invasive herbs. Carnegie Institution for Science found last fall that nearly 60 million tress from the North Coast through southern Sierra are chronically deficient in water. And the situation is far worst than the most pessimistic estimates.
After millions of trees were ravaged by California’s historic drought, Gov. Jerry Brown said that the epidemic of dead trees is the worst ever recorded by modern historians. High temperatures also created a good environment for harmful insects to multiply. This is how dying trees have been put to death by bark beetles faster than any efforts to rescue them, creating a genuine spiral of death.
A study recently published in the journal New Phytologist found that the 3-year-long California drought was so severe that it has even affected ferns, which are plants that usually can easily adapt to dry periods.
The study revealed that high temperatures and extreme dryness blocked ferns’ full capacity to store energy and photosynthesize. As a result, the plants produced fewer new leaves, becoming more vulnerable to bugs and diseases.
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