Wytham Woods 'shields local plants'

Oct 31, 2013
Wytham Woods 'shields local plants'
A research plot in Wytham Woods, near Oxford.

A recent study has found that forests with dense canopies, including Oxford's Wytham Woods, can partially shield ground-level plants from the local effects of global warming.

As the planet warms, the general trend is for species adapted to survive at higher temperatures to thrive at the expense of those better-suited to colder climates. But when researchers compared plant species from 29 European and North American forests across the past few decades, they found that thick forests can slow, halt or even reverse this effect. Wytham Woods was one of the forests where plant life had not responded to rising .

'We believe that the effect of the tree canopy is to moderate changes in temperature at the lower levels in the wood – particularly where, as is the case in much of Europe, woods have been becoming a denser and shadier in recent years,' explains Dr Keith Kirby of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences. 'The fact that we didn't see more of a warming response in Wytham is perhaps not surprising since the plots used were mainly from the undisturbed areas of the woods, a lot of which are on the cooler north side of the hill.'

Wytham Woods are one of the most studied areas of woodland in the world, and Dr Kirby and colleagues have been monitoring plots there since 1974. The latest study highlights how important trees are for preserving the local conditions, so it is fortunate that Wytham Woods was not greatly affected by the storm which hit the UK on 27-28 October. However, ash dieback still poses a threat to much of the woods.

'We've found no traces of ash dieback in Wytham so far, but large chunks of the woods are 60-70% ash,' says Dr Kirby. 'If the disease were to spread to the area, we could lose great swathes of the tree cover. There could be benefits for some plants in terms of increased light at ground level but, as this latest study shows, they would no longer have the ash canopy to mitigate the effects of increasing temperatures.'

Wytham Woods have been owned by the University of Oxford since 1942, and they span 415 hectares to the west of Oxford. They played an important role in the latest study, as one of the few sites where plant life did not yet show adaptation to higher temperatures.

The international study was led by Belgian scientists from Ghent University and published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr Keith Kirby contributed data and analysis from the Wytham Woods plots. The study used data from over 1,400 plots from 29 forests across Europe and North America, sampled at intervals between 12-67 years.

Explore further: Polar Code too weak to properly protect polar environments from increased shipping activity

More information: www.wytham.ox.ac.uk/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Britain scrambles to contain deadly ash tree disease

Nov 02, 2012

The British government convened its emergency crisis committee on Friday to discuss how to contain a fungal disease threatening ash trees that has already wiped out swathes of woodland in Denmark.

'Early birds' adapt to climate change

May 09, 2008

Individual birds can adjust their behaviour to take climate change in their stride, according to a study by scientists from the University of Oxford.

Big personality birds find the best homes

Apr 18, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Birds willing to move around and take risks are better at finding the best places to live, researchers have found. Those with ‘fast-exploring’ personalities – birds tending ...

Birds benefit from knowing their neighbors

Dec 13, 2011

Being on good terms with your neighbors well certainly has its benefits. They might water your plants while you're on holiday, feed the cat, or even put your bins out.

Early bird catches the worm...for dinner

Oct 10, 2013

(Phys.org) —Birds, such as great and blue tits, scout for food in the morning but only return to eat it in late afternoon to maximise their chances of evading predators in the day without starving to death ...

Recommended for you

US to propose stricter smog standard

26 minutes ago

Coming full circle on a campaign promise, the Obama administration will propose Wednesday to reduce the amount of smog-forming pollution allowed in the air, which has been linked to asthma, lung damage and ...

Sao Paulo drought issue for global concern

43 minutes ago

He cast his rod happily here for 30 years—but where a river once teemed with fish, Brazilian fisherman Ernane da Silva these days stares out over a valley of weeds and bone dry, sun-parched land.

Conservationists sue over federal coal program

10 hours ago

Conservation groups have sued the government to force federal officials to undertake the first broad environmental review of the government's coal-leasing program in decades.

Owner of ship that damaged reef to pay $840,000

13 hours ago

The federal government and the state of Hawaii have reached an agreement for damages from the owner of a cargo ship that harmed more than 100,000 coral colonies several years ago when it ran aground off Oahu.

User comments : 0

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.