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Study Finds How Trees Adapt to Climate Change


52278_webRaising temperatures influence growth and health of all plant species on the planet. This has already been observed as warming has been taking place since the last Ice Age. However, recent changes have caused rapid warming and it is still unknown whether species will be able to adapt.

A new study, funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Appalachian Laboratory, will look into adaptation of forest trees to changing climates, and locate areas where trees are most or least likely to adapt in the future.

Stephen Keller, the lead researcher, explains that the rate of warming now has never been as high, and species have never had to deal with such situation before. His main concern is that trees might not have sufficient time required to develop new genetic mutations, which help them adapt.

The main focus of the study is on one of the most important species in North America’s northern forests- balsam poplar. The researchers will conduct a study on DNA sequences to determine the genes that could ensure survival and adaptation.

The scientists then plan to use this information and combine it with high-resolution satellite data in order to map the distribution of forest tree populations. In addition, the team plans to identify areas where the risk of extreme climate change is the highest, and map regions where special conservation practices are needed.

Keller is convinced that the combination between genetics, remote sensing, plant physiology and spatial modeling, will provide the anticipated results. The study is designed in a way that even the public can get involved, by monitoring seasonal changes in poplar and aspen growth.

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