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Plants flee warming for higher ground

It seems that climate change is allowing plant species to climb. According to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, nine plant species native to the steep slopes of the Santa Rosa Mountains in California have shifted an average of 213 feet up the mountainside. All this in 31 years.

Since 1977, species dying out at lower elevations have begun flourishing at higher ones as the ambient conditions for their growth also moves. Species include white fur pines, California lillies and ragweed.

According to the press release:

This study is the first to show directly the impact of climate change on a mountainous ecosystem by physically studying the location of plants, and it shows what could occur globally if the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. The finding also has implications for forest management, as it rules out air pollution and fire suppression as main causes of plant death.

Previous work has highlighted similar shifts in French mountain ranges. However, the Californian study demonstrated that the shift affected both the quick growing grasses and wildflowers and slower growing trees.

Earth systems scientist and co-author, Michael Goulden commented:

“It is clear that ecosystems can respond rather rapidly to climate change.”

The study highlights that small changes in atmospheric conditions will lead to large shifts. In this case, the change is a local one degree centigrade temperature rise.

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