As climate change increasingly threaten’s the world’s forests, scientists at the University of Utah have developed a new tool that identifies those woodlands that are most imperiled and whose loss would deal the greatest blow to the climate and biodiversity.
To forecast the impact of rising temperatures, researchers analyzed existing studies on climate-related forest loss, focusing on three factors. First, scientists determined where warmer temperatures are most likely to hinder the growth of trees, impeding their ability to store carbon. Second, they gauged how likely forests are to succumb to acute disturbances, such as droughts, fires, or insect infestations. Finally, they identified where woodland plants and animals are most threatened by climate change, finding the most significant dangers lie at the boundaries between ecosystems — between pine forests and broadleaf forests, for instance.
A synthesis of these factors showed that woods in the U.S. West, dry forests in the Amazon and Africa, and southern boreal forests are at greatest risk of significant losses from climate change. The results were published in the journal Science. Researchers also built an online tool that allows users to comb through the findings.
“Forests store an immense amount of carbon and slow the pace of climate change,” William Anderegg, director of the University of Utah’s Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy and lead author of the study, said in statement. “They harbor the vast majority of Earth’s biodiversity. And they can be quite vulnerable to disturbances like severe fire or drought. Thus, it’s important to consider each of these aspects and dimensions when thinking about the future of Earth’s forests in a rapidly changing climate.”