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Climate Change Speeding Up Life Cycles Of Trees

The Neuse River bike and pedestrian trail in Raleigh, forest, trees.
City of Raleigh

Researchers at Duke University have found evidence that climate change is shortening the life cycles of trees in the U.S.

Research in tropical areas like Peru has suggested that trees are migrating to cooler areas by producing offspring in higher elevations or latitudes, but the latest study says most plants in the U.S. might not be able to move quickly enough to keep up with rising temperatures. 

Duke environmental studies professor Jim Clark says the results give a better picture of how climate change will affect bio-diversity.

"Populations turning over faster is an indication of how dynamics within forests could change in the future, but it's not necessarily a threat because it affects all species, and it affects them all the time," Clark explains.

Clark says the results point to the need for further research into the effects of climate change.

"The concerns are that if you look at the climate projections for the southeast, you get vegetation more live savannahs.  The future precipitation is uncertain, but temperature is going to continue to rise, and so we've got this prospect of very different forests in the future," says Clark.

Nearly 80 percent of the species studied in the United States have not moved higher or further north.  Clark says researchers are still working to interpret climate projections, which suggest that forests in the southeast will be less diverse and less dense in 50 years.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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