Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Planting 400 acres of pines to survive climate change, give more time to adapt

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If you want to plant a pine tree that might survive the climate upheavals that are already remaking northern Minnesota’s boreal forest, where should it go? Scientists from the Nature Conservancy and elsewhere now think they know. This summer they’re embarking on a project to plant 400 acres with cold-loving evergreens like jack pine and tamarack in carefully selected “conifer strongholds” — places that they predict will stay cooler or wetter or have better soil, increasing the chances that a few of each species will survive for the next generation as Minnesota grows warmer.

…The aim is to preserve northern forest species — not just the trees but also the mosaic of plants and animals that rely on them — to maintain biodiversity. Now, climate change is forcing a different kind of evolution on the southern, most vulnerable, edge of the boreal forest. The giant, long-living pines are disappearing, replaced by more southern species like red maple as tree species across the country move in response to rapid changes in temperature and moisture brought on by 100 years of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere.

A study of 86 eastern tree species published last week by Purdue University scientists found that many [tree species] have already migrated west in response to increased rainfall in the central part of the country, and north in response to higher average temperatures.

….If that’s what happens [stay within 2C], then the conifer stronghold will work, he said. But if carbon emissions and climate change continue to accelerate, then in time, northern Minnesota will instead look a lot like Kansas, Frelich said, and no boreal species will survive long-term. Cornett hopes to provide conifers more time on the Minnesota landscape no matter what happens. She and foresters from the University of Minnesota and elsewhere have identified 30 such strongholds, totaling 400 acres, in the forests north of Duluth and in the St. Louis River watershed, where they will plant seedlings this year. Next year they plan to plant 50,000 more at other sites in northeast Minnesota.

The conifer stronghold data comes from a much bigger effort by the Nature Conservancy to map and identify areas across the national landscape that are most likely to promote biodiversity in the future. In short, rather than tracking and protecting places because of the species that are there, it focuses on geology. A limestone valley, for example, will be home to a different set of species than a granite mountain no matter what the climate.

Species are important, but they are going to change over time,” said Mark Anderson, the Boston Nature Conservancy scientist who is heading the project nationally. “We want to conserve these stages so they have a place to thrive.”

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