Nearly All US Forests Are Threatened By Droughts, Study Claims

Posted: Feb 23 2016, 1:27am CST | by , Updated: Feb 23 2016, 9:06pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Nearly all US Forests are Threatened by Droughts, Study Claims
Wildfires, with flames fanned by drought, are happening on large scales across the U.S. West. Credit: USGS

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Forests nationwide are feeling the heat from prolonged droughts and climate change.

Recently a report has explained the far-reaching effects of drought in the Western U.S. and suggested that drought and warmer temperatures will put western forests at the risk of larger wildfires and large-scale insect outbreaks and it may accelerate the death of trees and shrubs, causing massive changes in habitats and ecosystems.

A new study finds that the impact of drought is beyond the Western United States. Nearly all the forests across the country are exhausted by increasing drought and climate change.

“Over the last two decades, warming temperatures and variable precipitation have increased the severity of forest droughts across much of the continental United States,” said James Clark, lead author of the study and an environmental scientist at Duke University.

“While the effects have been most pronounced in the West, our analysis shows virtually that all U.S. forests are now experiencing change and are vulnerable to future declines.”

Death of entire communities of trees, bark beetle infestations and wildfires are already occurring on large-scale across the West and most models predict that situation will likely be same in the rest of the United State too since droughts are becoming more severe, frequent and prolonged with each passing year. Changes are so fast that tree populations are falling to adapt. Under drier and warmer conditions forests in both western and eastern U.S. are unlikely to expand and grow, according to the study.

“Prolonged drought affects wildfires risk, species distribution, forest biodiversity and productivity and virtually all goods and services provided by forests,” said Clark. “So there is a pressing need to know what is happening now, what might happen in the future and how we can manage for these changes.”

This research provides a comprehensive overview of the current and projected effects of droughts on forests nationwide, how they vary by region and how different tree species respond differently to the impact of drought. The research could potentially help device strategies to mitigate its effects.

“We currently have a pretty good handle on predicting the impacts of climate change and drought on individual trees,” said Clark.

“These are the scales where we really need reliable predictions so forest managers can take steps now to help reduce large-scale adverse future effects. That’s where we need to focus our efforts now.”

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