Study: Mountain vegetation impacted by climate change

Oct 25, 2010 by Jill Sakai

(PhysOrg.com) -- Climate change has had a significant effect on mountain vegetation at low elevations in the past 60 years, according to a study done by the University of California at Davis, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Geological Survey.

This information may guide future conservation efforts in helping decision makers develop regional landscape predictions about biological responses to climate changes.

These findings support recent predictions that stresses ecosystems at lower elevations more than higher elevations. Scientists examined vegetation changes during the past 60 years in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon, an area that harbors 131 plant species found nowhere else in the world. The study can be found online the week of Oct. 25 at the website.

"This study shows the possibility for successfully predicting specific ecosystem responses to climate change," says USGS scientist Jim Grace. "We are not accustomed to predicting the behavior of complex ecological systems, yet this is exactly what our responsibilities to future generations require of us."

"We were surprised to find such clear signals of climate change in these plant communities, given all the other that may be going on in the region, such as logging and ," says University of California at Davis professor Susan Harrison.

The study focused on the most diverse components of the plant community, the herbaceous understory of forests, which are of great conservation concern. Scientists included a wide range of elevations and land management histories to determine if stress-adapted native groups of species might be pre-adapted to added stress from warming and drying conditions.

"We have lacked the historic data from multiple communities in a single region to be able to test if there are differences in how they respond to climate change," says University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of zoology Ellen Damschen. "The results are profound in that the shifts we will see as a result of climate change may differ over very small spatial scales."

These findings counter earlier expectations that high-elevation communities would be most sensitive to climatic warming. Investigators found strong signals of increased drought stress in the low-elevation forests, but not at high elevations. Climate change appeared to affect both primary and secondary forests at low elevations similarly.

Explore further: Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

More information: www.pnas.org/

Related Stories

Aspen's 'dandelion' habits challenge mountain evergreens

Feb 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The face of high-elevation evergreen forests in Western Canada could be drastically altered as a combination of climate change, human and natural disturbances is making spruce and pine forests ...

A mountain bird's survival guide to climate change

Jun 08, 2010

Researchers at Yale University have found that the risk of extinction for mountain birds due to global warming is greatest for species that occupy a narrow range of altitude. In fact, a species' vertical distribution is a ...

Recommended for you

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

2 hours ago

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

New challenges for ocean acidification research

Dec 19, 2014

Over the past decade, ocean acidification has received growing recognition not only in the scientific area. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public are becoming increasingly aware of "the other carbon dioxide ...

Compromises lead to climate change deal

Dec 19, 2014

Earlier this month, delegates from the various states that make up the UN met in Lima, Peru, to agree on a framework for the Climate Change Conference that is scheduled to take place in Paris next year. For ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
5 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2010
Gee, what happened to the mountain vegetation when the world was warm enough for dairy farms in Greenland?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.