Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Climate Change Caused Widespread Tree Death In California Mountain Range, Study Confirms
Warmer temperatures and longer dry spells have killed thousands of trees and shrubs in a Southern California mountain range, pushing the plants' habitat an average of 213 feet up the mountain over the past 30 years, a UC Irvine study has determined.
White fir and Jeffrey pine trees died at the lower altitudes of their growth range in the Santa Rosa Mountains, from 6,400 feet to as high as 7,200 feet in elevation, while California lilacs died between 4,000-4,800 feet. Almost all of the studied plants crept up the mountain a similar distance, countering the belief that slower-growing trees would move slower than faster-growing grasses and wildflowers.
This study is the first to show directly the impact of climate change on a mountainous ecosystem by physically studying the location of plants, and it shows what could occur globally if the Earth's temperature continues to rise. The finding also has implications for forest management, as it rules out air pollution and fire suppression as main causes of plant death.
"Plants are dying out at the bottom of their ranges, and at the tops of their ranges they seem to be growing in and doing much better," said Anne Kelly, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Earth System Science at UCI. "The only thing that could explain this happening across the entire face of the mountain would be a change in the local climate."
The study appears online the week of Aug. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.