Eastern U.S. forests could change dramatically with climate change, but picture complicated by such factors as drought, CO2 levels, find U.S. researchers

Audrey Dixon

Audrey Dixon

Nov 1, 2011 – Forestweb

LOS ANGELES , October 28, 2011 () – Climate change could change forests in the Eastern U.S. dramatically over a few decades to come, but many factors complicate the picture, such as drought, carbon dioxide levels, temperature and even spread of a symbiotic fungus, the Athens Banner-Herald reported Oct. 20.

Forests could change to have a fairly similar appearance from Georgia to Massachusetts, said University of Georgia forest ecologist Jacqueline Mohan, according to the article carried in OnlineAthens.

Just a few species such as white oaks and longleaf pines may emerge as dominant, Mohan said last Wednesday in a talk sponsored by the university's Initiative for Climate and Society.

Mohan is researching how climate change affects the growth of understory trees such as red maples and Southern magnolias. Research indicates the magnolias could flourish as far north as New England with rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.

However, the effects of climate change in the Southeast are harder to pin down, said Mohan. She and other scientists are looking at change in the Eastern U.S. and the South, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.

Mohan said the major factor researchers need to consider is drought. Some climate scientists predict rainfall will drop 20% to 30% over the next few decades, primarily during summer.

Carbon dioxide levels are 30% higher than any time during the past 800,000 years, according to ice core samples, said Mohan. Some understory tree species are aided by this increase.

Sugar maple and cherry, for example, have a symbiotic relationship with the fungus arbuscular mycorrhiza, which helps funnel nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous to them. Growth of the fungus is boosted by higher carbon dioxide levels.

The primary source of this article is the Athens Banner-Herald, Athens, Georgia, on Oct. 20, 2011.

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