For scientists, it comes as no surprise to see shifts in the locations of tree species. However, a team of researchers behind a new study was quite amazed to note that trees in the Eastern United States are moving in an unexpected direction as well.
According to the scientists, this phenomenon can be explained by both climate change and also variations in the rainfall patterns. Study results are available in a paper in the Science Advances.
An Explanation for the Unexpected Direction of the Moving US Trees
Data for this new study came from the U.S. Forest Services and spanned over three decades, from 1980 to 2015. It includes information on 86 species of trees found anywhere in between Minnesota to Maine or Florida.
According to the researchers, over these 35 years, the median annual temperature across the United States increased by 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit. Areas in the North reported the highest temperature growth. This also had quite a significant effect on the local ecosystems.
The report found that dozens of trees are moving north. It is an expected consequence as the species are heading to new locations that present the properties they are used to. Still, many Eastern US trees were also noted to be heading west. This unexpected direction came as quite a surprise and prompted a closer look on the matter.
“[…] many trees have been moving westward because of changing climate. When analyzing the impact of climate change, precipitation had much stronger near-term impacts on forests instead of temperatures,” said Songlin Fei.
He is the study’s lead researcher and part of the Purdue College of Agriculture and the Climate Change Research Center.
Many deciduous trees such as oaks and maples were noted to be heading west. This helped the team establish that this type of trees was mostly moving based on the moisture availability. In contrast, evergreens were noted to be heading the anticipated way as they are moving northwards.
The research team will continue studying these changes while also taking further notice of this unexpected direction. As noted by research, tree movement can significantly impact the local forest ecosystems. Both plants, insects, animals and the soil itself depend on trees. A change in these latter can shift and unbalance the whole system.
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