Climate change

SCIENCE ADVANCES | Volume 3, Issue 5 | 2017 | Pages e1603055

Songlin Fei, Johanna M. Desprez, Kevin M. Potter, Insu Jo, Jonathan A. Knott, Christopher M. Oswalt

Research highlight in Nature, AP News, The Atlantic | One of top 100 scientific stories of the year in Discover Magazine


DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603055 | PDF | Supplementary materials PDF

Climate change can have profound impacts on biodiversity and the sustainability of many ecosystems. Various studies have investigated the impacts of climate change, but large-scale, trait-specific impacts are less understood. We analyze abundance data over time for 86 tree species/groups across the eastern United States spanning the last three decades. We show that more tree species have experienced a westward shift (73%) than a poleward shift (62%) in their abundance, a trend that is stronger for saplings than adult trees. The observed shifts are primarily due to the changes of subpopulation abundances in the leading edges and are significantly associated with changes in moisture availability and successional processes. These spatial shifts are associated with species that have similar traits (drought tolerance, wood density, and seed weight) and evolutionary histories (most angiosperms shifted westward and most gymnosperms shifted poleward). Our results indicate that changes in moisture availability have stronger near-term impacts on vegetation dynamics than changes in temperature. The divergent responses to climate change by trait- and phylogenetic-specific groups could lead to changes in composition of forest ecosystems, putting the resilience and sustainability of various forest ecosystems in question.

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