Climate change and the rise of the limber pine
As the Earth’s temperature rises due to climate change, many organisms and wildlife are also moving uphill to beatthe heat. But, when you’re on the summit, you can’t go any higher. That is the dilemma for the ancient Bristlecone Pine trees, the oldest trees in the world and one of the oldest organisms on the planet. Their habitat lies near the peaks of the many ranges in the Great Basin area, including the White Mountains. Those local trees and now the subject of a study on how a hotter planet is effecting plants at altitude.
A study published in Global Change Biology, September 21, “Leap frog in slow motion: Divergent responses of tree species and life stages to climatic warming in Great Basin subalpine forests,” concludes that the elderly trees are having a tougher time than other species moving and adapting to higher elevations.
Brian Smithers, Ph.D. candidate at UC Davis who studies subalpine forests in the West and one of the authors of the study, told The Sheet, bristlecone pines have a harder time adapting to climate change than other competing species, namely the limber pine. Limber pines are leap-frogging ahead of the bristlecones and dominating the fertile ground of the upper slopes.
This is not the doom and gloom scenario as purported by many news outlets, Smithers said. The bristlecone pine trees are not in peril or in danger of going extinct anytime soon. These trees are thousands of years old and it will probably take more than a few years of observation to determine what exactly is going to happen in the future, he said.
In most of the Great Basin, bristlecone pines dominate tree line with a rare limber pine mixed in the grove. Farther down slope, limber and bristlecones are mixed and even farther down slope pinon pines are mixed with limber pines.
Smithers said he and other researchers including Connie Millar, an expert in climate change and its effects on species in the Great Basin and Eastern Sierra, are seeing limber pines at tree line and above. Tree line has advanced upslope 19.1 meters since 1950, according to the study.