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Climate change killing more trees: study

Climate change is likely killing more trees in the boreal forest than predicted, a new Canadian study suggests.


April 3, 2013
By CBC News

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Models that predict the impact of climate change typically assume that older forests are representative of all forests. But older forests are less vulnerable to the effects of climate change than younger forests that make up the vast majority of Canada’s boreal forest ecosystems, suggests a study of Alberta and Saskatchewan forests by Yong Luo and Han Chen, forest ecologists at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The research published  in the journal Nature Communications also found that some tree species were far more vulnerable than others. Specifically:

• Species that need more water, such as balsam and poplar, tend to be hit harder than drought-tolerant species such as jack pine.
• Species that colonize forests later after a fire, such as black spruce and white spruce, are more sensitive than the “pioneers” that grow back first, such as aspen and jack pine.

That surprised Chen, who assumed, as most models do, that climate change would hit all species roughly equally.

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The fact that it doesn’t could have implications about how climate change will affect forest ecosystems, as a decrease in the relative abundance of those species — or their disappearance altogether — will impact other plants and animals that rely on them for food, shelter, or other needs, Chen said.

The differences in vulnerability of forests by age and species seems tied to their ability to withstand drier conditions that are linked to warmer temperatures.

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