Offering trees some shelter

I don’t want this to become an unusual scene where I live.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at the possible impacts of climate change on temperate forests around the world, impacts that could disrupt forest dynamics and alter the landscapes around us. Rising global temperatures can rearrange precipitation patterns, warm soils, and cause expanded disease and pest outbreaks. And there are concerns that tree populations will not be able to migrate quickly enough to respond to changing climatic conditions. I’m already quite frustrated that the lilacs around me, which once bloomed for my birthday at the end of May, now bloom considerably before my birthday; the idea that local paper birches may not be able to handle future warming temperatures is worse. But there are several things that we all can do to support trees, as well as all plant and animal communities, as things heat up and patterns change.

Getting active outside:

  • The National Arbor Day Foundation has a variety of tree-planting programs, some of which focus on restoring forests after events while others look at expanding forested areas, both of which can help mitigate the impact of climate change (Locatelli et al. 2011). Some researchers have suggested that proactive planting of species in areas as they become suitable habitat could help tree populations speed up their migration (Aitken et al. 2008), so planting trees could become one of the most effective ways to ensure that trees keep with the pace of climate change.
  • The US Forest Service not only loves volunteers for a variety of tasks, but also has programs specifically focused around climate change.
  • Combined with the trees around the university buildings , the green space at the bottom of this hill in Exeter, UK connects tree populations, provides increased habitat for animals, and preserves a seed bank for the future.

    Consider adding trees to your immediate vicinity- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN suggests that expanding tree cover outside of forests is an important element in mitigating climate change (and their website has many reports on specific parts of the world if you want more information on climate change and the forests around you).

Looking at the big picture:

  • Our parks and forests were often created because of the particular beauty or species richness of a specific location, but some of these places will become less than ideal homes for species as global conditions change. One of the challenges species will face is how to get from where they are to a more suitable location, sometimes because they cannot move on their own and sometimes because the area they would be moving through is already occupied by us. Connective corridors can provide a safe route from one place to the next, but only if we make sure those corridors exist- talk to your local and state conservation officials about the corridors (or lack thereof) where you live and how you can support the creation and maintenance of them. In temperate eastern Australia, corridors are an important element in dealing with the drier conditions to come (Mansergh and Cheal 2007).

Every little bit helps:

  • Look for wood products with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label- businesses that participate in this program follow production and oversight guidelines designed to protect forest resources, local communities, and environmental processes.
  • I’ve said it before with regard to migrating bird populations, but shade-grown coffee is a good choice in the supermarket- it increases tree cover and offers habitat to other species. Farmers with other products are also starting looking at the shade-grown model, so keep a look out for that designation in other places.
  • Reduce your emissions through reduced driving, slightly lower thermostats in winter, etc.- we may not be able to stop global warming, but we may be able to slow it down a bit, giving plants and animals more time to adapt.


Works Cited:

Aitken, S.N., Yeaman, S., Holliday, J.A., Wang, T., and S. Curtis-McLane. 2008. Adaptation, migration or extirpation: climate change outcomes for tree populations. Evolutionary Outcomes 1: 95-111.

Locatelli, B., Evans, V., Wardell, A., Andrade, A., and R. Vignola. 2011. Forests and climate change in Latin America: linking adaptation and mitigation. Forests 2: 431-450.

Mansergh, I. and D. Cheal. 2007. Protected area planning and management for eastern Australia temperate forests and woodland ecosystems under climate change- a landscape approach. In: Protected Areas: buffering nature against climate change. Proceedings of a WWF and IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Symposium, 18-19 June 2007, Canberra. (eds. M. Taylor and P. Figgis) pp. 58-72. WWF- Australia, Sydney.