This was originally published in ‘The Nerve’ the Southampton Biological Society Paper:
Predicting the affects of global warming is a complicated process with many disagreements over the severity and possible effects of estimated rises in atmospheric CO2 and temperature. One test currently underway in British Columbia seeks to ascertain experimentally the effects that predicted temperatures will have on tree life.
This experiment has been termed the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trial (AMAT). It involves taking seedlings of a multitude of species from their natural habitat and moving them into regions with a similar environment to what their natural habitat is expected to be like in the years 2025, 2055 and 2085. This test is being hailed as a progressive pro-active approach to the global warming issue by some, yet others consider it to be both dangerous and disruptive to their ecosystems.
The relevance of this study to the region is highlighted by the effects that global warming already seems to be having. An average temperature rise of 0.7oC in the decade to 2006 has seen a vast rise in the destruction by the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). The beetles population is normally kept low by prolonged cold winters, however, as the winters have become warmer with less prolonged cold spells, the beetles are able increase their glycogen blood concentration which acts as an anti-freeze. As a result the natural temperature is becoming an increasingly less effective control and in recent years 145,000 square kilometres of trees) has been adversely affected, an area 70% bigger than the UK.
The result of these tests will not be known for several years until the trees have developed but a preliminary study started 5 years ago on spruce trees gives an indication of what might be observed. The health of these trees was wide, ranging from some growing normally but others showing an increased susceptibility to diseases, presented in the form of stunted growth or premature death.
The unknown future of the planet is an important issue and these kinds of experiments could prove vital in the both the anticipation and preparation for the adverse effects of climate change which are looming on the horizon.