Shock finding: past climate change helps forests cope with present climate change

In a surprise to no one, descendants of plants that survived 350 million years of climate extremes, volcanoes, meteor impacts, mass extinction events and ice ages seem able to cope with moderate modern weather. Not only that, places where the weather varied a lot in the 1960s are still like that, and the plants that liked those conditions still like those conditions. I mean, really, give me your money.

Does this mean we can protect forests of the future by creating climate variability now?

Rachel Harper Institute of Physics

Gincko Biloba trees

Close relatives of Gincko Biloba trees have been around for nearly 200 million years. | Photo Jean-Pol Grandmont |

A new study out today in the first issue of Environmental Research: Ecology assessed effects of past and current climate variability on global forest productivity. The work highlights sensitive regions where forests may be most at risk as the planet warms and temperatures become more extreme. The framework can help set conservation priorities, support forest adaptation efforts, and improve carbon accounting.

Lead author Winslow Hansen, a forest ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, says that “global climate patterns are becoming increasingly variable. This means more extremes, which threaten forest health and productivity. They say adversity makes you stronger. Here, we were essentially testing that adage for trees. Are forested regions that experienced more variable conditions in the past better prepared to tolerate variable climate now and in the future?”

Get ready —  places that used to have variable weather, still have variable weather, and the plants that live there tend to be the ones that don’t get killed by variable weather:

They found that regions where temperature was more variable in the past continue to experience more temperature variability today. Forests in these regions tend to better tolerate this increasing variability.

Hansen says that their “findings show that historic temperature variability casts legacy effects on current forest productivity. In places where historic temperature variability was 0.66°C greater than the global average, forests were 19x less sensitive to current temperature variability. This trend was true globally, with important distinctions among biomes.”

Sometime around 360 million years ago plants got very good at sucking CO2 out of the sky and they never looked back even though temperatures varied by 15 degrees Celsius. Tell the children…

Berner and Scotese, 2001, Cambrian, Graph.

Geocraft — Late Carboniferous to Early Permian time (315 mya — 270 mya) is the only time period in the last 600 million years when both atmospheric CO2 and temperatures were as low as they are today (Quaternary Period ). Temperature after C.R. Scotese. CO2 after R.A. Berner, 2001 (GEOCARB III)  

 

REFERENCE

Winslow D Hansen et al, Global forests are influenced by the legacies of past inter-annual temperature variability, Environmental Research: Ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1088/2752-664X/ac6e4a

 

 

 

 

 

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August 30, 2022 at 03:00PM

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