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Tree migration

A 30-year study is showing some tree species are on the move due to factors of climate change

A study on trees in the Eastern United States shows they’re packing their roots and moving. Over the past 30-years, many species of trees in the East have been shifting their growing locations in response to climate change.

Purdue University professor Songlin Fei led the research team that gathered data on 86 tree species between 1980 and 2015. The common thought was that trees would move north to cooler temperatures as the Eastern U.S. becomes warmer. However, he says the most surprising result is that a lot of the trees are moving west. They’re going where the water is.

"One particular aspect that we were able to find is that the precipitation patterns in the eastern U.S. have changed," says Fei. "So compared to the Midwest, there is much more moisture available, and a lot of trees are growing there."

Deciduous trees like oak and maple are primarily moving westward, but evergreens are moving more to the north.

Think of a forest as a community of trees that live together. Fei says through more study, they hope to learn which communities are more vulnerable than others so they can provide guidance.

"The other aspect is we really want to know the physiologies of these trees," he says. "We want to know their responses and what are their tolerance levels so possibly with further knowledge, we are able to make recommendations about seed zones and other management practices to make our forests stronger and more resilient."

Fei says further research on tree communities will focus on the impact that climate change can have on the sustainability of diverse ecosystems.

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