Environment

Climate changes affecting CA plants

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley have taken known climate projections and applied them to our native plants. Many of those plants may move or disappear as a result.

The plants that Californians know and take for granted have hardly changed in thousands of years. But, based on new research out of U.C. Berkeley, some of them they may vanish from the landscape.

"At this point, we don't know what species will suffer the most," says biologist Scott Loarie, Ph.D.

Doctors David Ackerly and Scott Loarie released the results of a study that brings the effects of climate change to backyards and hiking trails.

Worst case scenarios predict that California's temperature may rise as much as eight degrees in the next 100 years. In order for them to survive, plants will have to move. But can they move fast enough?

It's the first study to look at all of California's 2,500 native plants. It projects that some of them, like the leather oak, will need to move 100 miles in less than a century, just to survive.

"If the climate changes the way that we forecast in these models, they can't hang on," says Loarie.

Temperatures are rising 10 times faster than any other time in recorded geologic history. Faster, even, than after the last ice age.

"Its already different. Already different in the past 50 years. The same is true for the animals as well," says biologist David Ackerly.

Along the coast, warm water species have moved north. In the skies above, birds have begun changing migration patterns. The problem for plants is that they are less mobile.

"A lot of these plants are moved by animals. If the animals can move, then the plants can too through the landscape," says U.C. Berkeley Herbaria Director Brent Mishler, Ph.D.

There is a benefit to this study because it identifies areas to protect in the future. As for doing something about it, it's not a scientific decision.

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