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  • Writer's pictureTali Orad

The Great Migration of Trees

Just like animals, we can find trees migrate for a better chance of survival


Many species of mammals and birds migrate great distances in response to changing environmental conditions, such as seasonal changes in temperature and food availability. For example, monarch butterflies migrate thousands of kilometers each year because they cannot survive the long cold northern winters, while caribou (reindeer) migrate vast distances to minimize exposure to predation, especially during calving when young animals are particularly vulnerable.


You will be surprised to hear trees "migrate" as well. Taking for example the Jack Pine tree. Just like many mammals and birds, the Jack Pine has also migrated in response to changing environmental conditions, specifically in response to warming temperatures. Studies have shown that the Jack Pine has shifted its range northward by up to 200 kilometers over the last century. This type of migration is not as dramatic as the migration of animals, but it is still a significant shift that has taken place over a long period of time.


In a study published in the Journal of Biogeography in 2009 (1), the authors analyzed the historical distribution of Jack Pine populations in North America over the past century. The study found that the species has shifted its range northward by up to 200 kilometers most likely due to a combination of changes in temperature, precipitation, and fire regimes.

It was interesting to see that in addition to the northward range shift of Jack Pine in response to warming temperatures, the species migrated has experienced a reduction in genetic diversity as a result of the shift (shown by a study (2), published in the Journal of Ecology in 2009). This reduction in genetic diversity can have negative impacts on the long-term resilience and adaptability of the species to future climate change and other stressors.

Some studies have found that the migration of trees may not always lead to the preservation of biodiversity, as the migration of certain species may come at the expense of other species that are unable to adapt or move as quickly.


The speed at which some species are able to migrate varies. In some cases, trees have been found to migrate much faster than expected, suggesting that they are able to adapt to changing climatic conditions more quickly than previously thought.


These unexpected findings highlight the complexity and variability of the migration of trees in response to climate change and underscore the need for continued research in this area.

The Jack Pine is one of the many examples of how trees are affected by climate change. The northward migration of the species and the reduction in genetic diversity highlight the importance of addressing the impacts of climate change on tree species and the need for conservation efforts to focus on protecting their genetic diversity. Further research is needed to better understand the dynamics of range shift and the impacts of climate change on tree species, and to develop effective strategies for conserving their genetic diversity in the face of a rapidly changing climate.


 

(1) "The response of Pinus banksiana populations to 20th-century warming: implications for dispersal and gene flow" by Tomás P. Gurmendi and R. Ethan Welty, published in the Journal of Biogeography in 2009

(2) "Range shift and genetic response of Pinus banksiana in response to 20th-century warming" by Jocelyn C. Millar, Adam W. Sherk, and R. Ethan Welty, published in the Journal of Ecology in 2009.

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