New research into the tree populations of Southwest America have found that these forests will face reduced growth if temperatures continue to rise and rain continues to fall.
The researchers looked at tree-ring data and climate models to find that the rising temperatures and falling precipitation have led to a decline in the fitness of forests in the Southwest of the continental United States.
As a result of this weakening, forests have seen an increase in their inability to survive wildfires and bark beetle attacks.
The team of scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S. Geological Survey, and University of Arizona looked at tree rings of piñon pine, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir and found that fire and bark beetles caused a higher level of mortality than normal in 14 to 18 percent of forest areas in the Southwest.
“These results have been observed previously on a case-by-case basis, but our demonstration of the pervasive effects of warming and drought should better enable water and land managers to prepare for climate adaptation in coming decades,” says Connie Millar, a research climate ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, who co-authored the study.
These findings represent more than just the obvious devastation to the forests in the region. For those who need another motivation to care, the protection and preservation of forests in the Southwest of the US is vital to maintain the area’s watershed which feeds the Colorado River which in turn provides water for cities and agriculture in seven western states in the US and two in northwestern Mexico.
As a result of this, these findings will hopefully be useful for forest managers in making key decisions about how to adapt to the continuing climate change that is affecting much of the planet.