The findings of a study carried out by Penn State University suggest that the composition of the eastern forests has not been altered due to climatic changes, but due to a change in disturbance regimes.
Forests in the Eastern United States remain in a state of “disequilibrium” stemming from the clear-cutting and large-scale burning that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, contends Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology.
The state of Minnesota is experiencing a significant overhaul of its forest populations, where trees like the American basswood, black cherry, red maple, sugar maple, and white oak are becoming increasingly prevalent, whereas the region’s more characteristic species like the white spruce and balsam fir tree fight to acclimatize to increasing temperature and wet winter storms, the Nature World News reported recently.
But, Marc Abrams, a researcher from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is disputing on the fact that the climate is significantly a secondary factor involved in forests overhaul, especially in the eastern United States forests. He further insisted that these forests are still struggling to recover from the state of ‘disequilibrium’ which occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s from the clear-cutting and burning of large scale forests.
Moreover, Abrams noted, since about 1930 — during the Smokey Bear era — aggressive forest-fire suppression has had a far greater influence on shifts in dominant tree species than minor differences in temperature.
“Looking at the historical development of Eastern forests, the results of the change in types of disturbances — both natural and man-caused — are much more significant than any change in climate,” said Abrams, who is the Steimer Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.
“Over the last 50 years, most environmental science has focused on the impact of climate change. In some systems, however, climate change impacts have not been as profound as in others. This includes the forest composition of the eastern U.S.”
Abrams compared pre-settlement – original land survey data along with the present vegetation conditions in the eastern US, in a recent study published in the journal Global Change Biology. Shockingly, it revealed that the “change” experience by the eastern forests be similar to the still ongoing turbulent results of European disturbances on what was once a balanced forest system.
Meanwhile, Abrams added that this doesn’t mean that the climate isn’t having its own influences. It’s just that, “land-use change often trumped the impacts of a warming climate, and this needs greater recognition in climate change discussions, scenarios and model interpretations.”