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Climate Isn't Changing Forests as Much as We Thought

Oct 15, 2014 10:48 PM EDT

Researchers frequently mention how climate change is playing a heavy hand in the drastic changes forests are going through in the Northern Hemisphere, where cold-loving pines and firs are being bullied out by more adaptable species.

Nature World News recently reported how the state of Minnesota alone is experiencing a major overhaul of its forest populations, where tree likes the American basswood, black cherry, red maple, sugar maple, and white oak are becoming increasingly prevalent, while species more characteristic to the region like the white spruce and balsam fir tree struggle to adapt to increasing temperatures and wet winter storms.

However, a researcher from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences is arguing that climate change is a mere secondary factor for forest overhaul, at least among forest in the eastern United States. Forest ecology expert Marc Abrams stipulates that these forests are still struggling to recover from a state of "disequilibrium" that arose from the clear-cutting and large-scale burning that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s - long before "Smokey the Bear" was a household name.

"Looking at the historical development of Eastern forests, the results of the change in types of disturbances - both natural and man-caused - are much more significant than any change in climate," Abrams said in a recent statement.

"Over the last 50 years, most environmental science has focused on the impact of climate change. In some systems, however, climate change impacts have not been as profound as in others. This includes the forest composition of the eastern US."

In a study recently authored by the researcher, and published in the journal Global Change Biology, Abrams compared presettlement - original land survey data - and current vegetation conditions in the eastern United States.

Surprisingly, it revealed that the "change" that many eastern forests are experiencing resembles the still ongoing tumultuous results of European disturbances on what was once a balanced forest system.

However, Abrams is quick to add that this does not mean climate is not having its own influences. It is simply that, "land-use change often trumped or negated the impacts of warming climate, and this needs greater recognition in climate change discussions, scenarios and model interpretations."

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