Need more evidence of global weirding? The trees are heading west.
Need more evidence that the world is getting really weird? Trees on the East Coast of the U.S. might be migrating west.
Songlin Fei, an ecologist at Purdue University, compared U.S. Forest Service data on tree ranges from 1980-1995 against more recent data from 2013-2015. According to the study published in the journal Science Advances, trees on the East Coast might be shifting their ranges westward right underneath our noses.
Nearly half of the tree species they examined were making a break for it.
Of the 86 different tree species, 47% had a significant westward shift, including quaking aspens, several types of oak, and plum and cherry trees.
The trees weren't physically moving, of course. Nor were they necessarily disappearing in the east. Instead, the trees, especially saplings, were spreading more along the species' western edges.
So why are the trees moving? Fei's team thinks they're following the water. Over the past century, the southeast has gotten drier while the Midwest and Great Lakes have gotten wetter. The trees are simply responding to that.
Here's the bottom line: Climate change is going to make all living things move. And we've got to be ready for it.
Climate change affects rainfall and weather patterns, not just temperature. Many different species are being forced into new ranges — and not just endangered beetles. The ranges of common backyard birds and even foods like maple syrup might change.
This latest data is no reason to panic. The median rate westward is only about a mile a year (which is still pretty fast for trees). But this is a great reminder that as our planet changes, nature's going to respond in unexpected ways. We better strap ourselves in.