Climate Change: Killing Cloud-Side Forests
No, unfortunately there isn't a forest of feather-light trees just waiting to be discovered atop a fluffy white cloud. However, there are many unique, high-altitude forests found on mountains that rely on the moisture and cover of passing clouds to survive. Now, with climate change altering atmospheric currents throughout the world, experts have estimated that many of these forests are in trouble.
That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, which details how many key plant species endemic to high-altitude forest will likely not be able to survive in their current locations past the year 2080.
How do they know this? Researchers with the Australian Tropical Herbarium and James Cook University looked at 19 plant species in the tropics found at least 1000 meters above sea level and assessed their likelihood to survive under three of the most popular climate change scenarios (ranging from conservative to extreme).
The results showed that even under conservative estimates, the niche climate conditions in which these species exist would decline by a minimum of 17 percent (max 100%) across the globe by 2040. In anywhere from 25 to 45 years from now, at least 12 of those species will be at serious risk of extinction. (Scroll to read on...)
The predictions also show that by 2080 no suitable habitat will exist for 84 percent of the species studied under any likely carbon emissions scenario.
The researchers looked to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia for their work, as it is a well-known and ideal example of high-altitude, cloud-dependant forests. They estimated that by 2080, the region will very nearly lose all ability to host the cloud-loving plants that grow 1000 meters or more above sea level.
"Our study indicates that the current climate on Queensland's mountaintops will virtually disappear," lead researcher Craig Costion said in a statement. "What we don't know is if these plants can adapt."
For instance, the researchers already know that sea-level climates just won't cut it, even if local soils match those of the mountain terrain. The only way left to go then, is up.
"[But] they already live on mountain tops," Costion added, "they have no other place to go."
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