Signs of climate change at low elevations

UC DAVIS (US) — Contrary to expectations, climate change has had a significant effect on mountain plants at low elevations.

The information could guide future conservation efforts at local scales by helping decision makers anticipate biological responses to climate changes, says Susan Harrison, lead researcher and a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis.

The study was published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Harrison and scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the U.S. Geological Survey examined vegetation changes during the past 60 years in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon.

They found signs of increased drought stress in the low-elevation forests (1,650 to 4,000 feet), but not at high elevations (4,100 to 6,900 feet).

Climate change appeared to affect both logged and unlogged forests at low elevations similarly.

“We were surprised to find such clear signals of climate change in these plant communities, given all the other ecological changes that may be going on in the region, such as logging and fire suppression,” Harrison says.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey Global Climate Change Program.

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