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California Redwood Relocation: Earth's Largest Trees Shift Northward With Climate Change

Oct 18, 2015 08:30 PM EDT
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Redwoods that have grown comfortable to their coastal environments may find those shifting northward into Oregon and their suitable habitat at the southern end of their range "severely contracting," even though scientists in a new study also noted that redwoods have historically continued to grow even in warmer weather.  Researchers from the University of California, NatureServe and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) discovered that warmer future temperatures paired with normal rainfall amounts will have a significant impact on the large iconic trees along the south of San Francisco Bay, according to a news release

"With warmer climate forecast for more than half the coast redwood range in the next 10-15 years, we are eager for research that helps identify those areas that are most sensitive to climate change," Paul Ringgold, Chief Program Officer for San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League, the land trust which catalyzed the study under its Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative (RCCI), said in the release. "These key findings help us better understand the future impacts of climate change and how to manage for these impacts on our redwood forests."

There are 14 redwood parks located within the Bay area, including Big Basin Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park south of Carmel, and Garrapata State Park, which is between Carmel and Big Sur on the Monterey coast. Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) can grow to be 115 meters high and seven meters in diameter. These evergreen conifers are the highest trees on earth, the release noted.

For their study, researchers examined historical climate extremes as indicators of short- and medium-term changes in future climate. They then modeled the geographic distribution of coast redwoods in the smallest possible detail. This allowed researchers to predict fog amounts, levels of winter rain and moderate temperatures throughout the year. Ultimately, redwood forest bioclimate will cause trees to expand their range northward by 34 percent. This will in general cause them to relocate from the coast of California into southern Oregon, the researchers explained in their study.

"Redwoods will still exist in the most vulnerable areas, while continued research on changing redwood bioclimate will help us identify and address redwood forest regeneration challenges. Moreover, locally unique weather patterns such as fog may influence projected climate trends in the future," Ringgold said in a statement. "Coast redwoods have endured climatic changes over thousands of years. We are encouraged by our RCCI research, which shows that redwood trees continue to grow, even under warmer conditions, and will thrive further north into Oregon."

Their findings, recently published in the journal Global Change Biology, will help researchers better assess how climate change will impact individual tree species, such as the coast redwoods. 

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