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Climate change causing massive movement of tree species across the West

, species that have been established for centuries or millennia will lose their competitive edge, Waring said, and slowly but surely decline or disappear.

This survey, done with remote sensing of large areas over a four-year period, compared 15 coniferous tree species that are found widely across much of the West in Canada and the United States. The research explored impacts on 34 different "eco-regions" ranging from the Columbia Plateau to the Sierra Nevada, Snake River Plain and Yukon Highlands.

It projected which tree species would be at highest risk of disturbance in a future that's generally expected to be 5-9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2080, with perhaps somewhat more precipitation in the winter and spring, and less during the summer.

Among the findings:

  • Some of the greatest shifts in tree species are expected to occur in both the northern and southern extremes of this area, such as British Columbia, Alberta, and California.
  • Large declines are expected in lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce, and more temperate species such as Douglas-fir and western hemlock may expand their ranges.
  • Many wilderness areas are among those at risk of the greatest changes, and will probably be the first to experience major shifts in tree species.
  • Some of the mild, wetter areas of western Oregon and Washington will face less overall species change than areas of the West with a harsher climate.
  • More than half of the evergreen species are experiencing a significant decrease in their competitiveness in six eco-regions.
  • Conditions have become more favorable for outbreaks of diseases and insects.
  • Warming will encourage growth at higher elevations and latitudes, and increased drought at the other extremes. Fire frequency will continue to increase across the West, and any tree species lacking drought resistance will face special challenges.

"Ecosystems are always changing at the land

Contact: Richard Waring
Oregon State University

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