Trees Moving to Higher, Cooler Elevations Study Shows

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Mountain hemlock. CDFW Photo by David Wright

Signature tree species in the high Sierra Nevada forests – including mountain hemlock, red fir and western white pine – are shifting toward higher, cooler elevations according to new research by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). This study foreshadows how climate warming may significantly alter entire habitats for multiple species.

The CDFW researchers found that large areas of Plumas and Sierra counties no longer have much mountain hemlock, as much of the northern Sierra Nevada lacks the higher mountains the trees now need to persist. These conifer species that are shifting to higher elevations provide food for insects, birds and mammals, and help to build forest soil.

The report was published this week in the California Fish and Game 2016 Winter Issue.

In addition to research on high-elevation tree species in the northern Sierra Nevada, CDFW-funded researchers also recently concluded that 16 of 29 different types of natural vegetation communities in California are highly or near highly vulnerable to climate change by the end of the century. These include Pacific Coast saltmarsh, high montane conifer forest and Western North American freshwater marsh.

The climate vulnerability study was completed by researchers at UC Davis with funding from CDFW. Called “A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of California’s Terrestrial Vegetation,” the report can be found here. It was prepared in association with the CDFW’s State Wildlife Action Plan 2015 Update, and the research will help the department understand why certain ecosystems are more vulnerable to climate change and where species may be able to persist during unfavorable environmental conditions.

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Media contacts:

David Wright, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 358-2945
Whitney Albright, CDFW Climate Science and Renewable Energy Branch, (916) 445-3394
Carol Singleton, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8962