“RICHLAND, Wash. – Ongoing environmental changes are transforming forests worldwide, resulting in shorter and younger trees with broad impacts on global ecosystems, scientists say.
“In a global study published in the May 29 issue of Science magazine, researchers led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that rising temperatures and carbon dioxide have been altering the world’s forests through increased stress and carbon dioxide fertilization and through increasing the frequency and severity of disturbances such as wildfire, drought, wind damage and other natural enemies. Combined with forest harvest, the Earth has witnessed a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of forests.
“This trend is likely to continue with climate warming,” said Nate McDowell, a PNNL Earth scientist and the study’s lead author. “A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests and they store more carbon than young forests.” Carbon storage and rich biodiversity are both keys to mitigate climate change….
“The study, “Pervasive shifts in forest dynamics in a changing world,” determined that forests have already been altered by humans and will mostly likely continue to be altered in the foreseeable future, resulting in a continued reduction of old-growth forests globally.
“Natural and human-driven disturbances are altering the world’s forests, increasing tree mortality and reducing ecosystem recovery. Scientists say that conditions that promote deforestation will likely accelerate, drastically altering the living conditions for plants and animals.
“Mortality is rising in most areas, while recruitment and growth are variable over time, leading to a net decline in the stature of forests,” said McDowell. “Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances such as wildfire and insect outbreaks are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency and severity over the next century. So, reductions in average forest age and height are already happening and they’re likely to continue to happen…”
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