Why our grandkids will encounter different plants

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Significant changes to the distribution of plants on Earth are coming by 2050, a study of fossilized pollen predicts.

In the journal Nature, scientists predict profound changes in the distribution of plants globally. Their work is based on pollen from previous periods with climate changes similar to those expected in this century.

“Surprisingly, our results forecast major shifts in abundance and composition of plants in forests, grasslands, and other plants communities,” says David Nogués-Bravo, associate professor at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Copenhagen and lead author of the study.

“These transformations will occur already by the middle of this century. It means that our own grandchildren will encounter largely different landscapes compared to those we know today. They will see new species in forests, on prairies, and scrublands, while other species, that are common in those areas today, will be gone.

Fossilized pollen shows ancient Egypt’s mega-drought

The prediction is based on records of fossilized pollen from plants that lived between 20,000 years ago to present. During this time, ice sheets melted and global temperatures rose by 4 to 5 degrees, similar to the temperature rises expected for this century.

“The fossil record gives us a natural model system for studying species responses to climate change,” says coauthor Jack Williams, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We can see that ecosystems were transformed by past climate changes, for ecosystems both on land and in waters—and across many regions. Thus, we can expect similarly profound changes throughout the Earth.”

The records of pollen used in the study comprised 100 European plant taxa from 546 sites, and 87 North American plant taxa from 527 sites. The study shows that one-third of North American plants and more than half of European plants may face increased threat status in the future due to climate change. Central North America and southern Europe are the most exposed regions.

Source: University of Copenhagen