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Shifts in Plant Distributions in a Warming World
Reference
Kelly, A.E. and Goulden, M.L. 2008. Rapid shifts in plant distribution with recent climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105: 11,823-11,826.

Background
The authors note that "past studies have led to the conclusion that the distribution of plant species lags the climatic conditions during periods of rapid change," citing the paper of Davis (1989), who claimed that "trees may not be able to disperse rapidly enough to track climate," with the implication that certain species would thus go extinct during periods of unprecedented warming, such as climate alarmists claim has occurred over the past three decades. Indeed, this has been the claim of a number of papers, including those of Woodwell (1989), Gear and Huntley (1991), Root and Schneider (1993), Dyer (1995), Malcolm and Markham (2000), Malcolm et al. (2002) and Root et al. (2003).

What was done
To test this scenario, Kelly and Goulden compared two vegetation surveys (one made in 1977 and the other in 2006-2007) of the Deep Canyon Transect in Southern California's Santa Rosa Mountains, which spans several plant communities and climates, rising from an elevation of 244 meters to 2560 meters over a distance of 16 km, while "climbing through desert scrub, pinyon-juniper woodland, chaparral shrubland, and conifer forest."

What was learned
The two researchers found that "the average elevation of the dominant plant species rose by ~65 meters," when the 30-year mean temperature measured at seven stations around Deep Canyon rose by 0.41C between 1947-1976 and 1977-2006, and when the same metric rose by 0.63C in the climate regions straddled by the transect, and by 0.77C at the two weather stations nearest Deep Canyon.

What it means
Kelly and Goulden say their "results imply that surprisingly rapid shifts in the distribution of plants can be expected with climate change," and we note that those rapid shifts appear to be fully capable of coping with even the supposedly unprecedented rate of warming climate alarmists have long claimed was characteristic of the last decades of the 20th century.

References
Davis, M.B. 1989. Lags in vegetation response to greenhouse warming. Climatic Change 15: 75-89.

Dyer, J.M. 1995. Assessment of climatic warming using a model of forest species migration. Ecological Modelling 79: 199-219.

Gear, A.J. and Huntley, B. 1991. Rapid changes in the range limits of Scots pine 4000 years ago. Science 251: 544-547.

Malcolm, J.R., Liu, C., Miller, L.B., Allnutt, T. and Hansen, L. 2002. Habitats at Risk: Global Warming and Species Loss in Globally Significant Terrestrial Ecosystems. World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland.

Malcolm, J.R. and Markham, A. 2000. Global Warming and Terrestrial Biodiversity Decline. World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland.

Root, T.L., Price, J.T., Hall, K.R., Schneider, S.H., Rosenzweig, C. and Pounds, J.A. 2003. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421: 57-60.

Root, T.L. and Schneider, S.H. 1993. Can large-scale climatic models be linked with multiscale ecological studies? Conservation Biology 7: 256-270.

Woodwell, G.M. 1989. The warming of the industrialized middle latitudes 1985-2050: Causes and consequences. Climatic Change 15: 31-50.

Reviewed 8 October 2008