Canada’s boreal forests may not suffer as much as other areas on Earth from climate change. Armed with climate data from as far back as 1960, scientists from Quebec and the United States scrutinized datasets of tree rings from black spruce trees to gather a sense of how the trees respond to varying weather conditions. Their discovery is incredibly hopeful: some of these forests might actually thrive in the warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.
The scientists looked at tree ring datasets from 26,000 black spruce trees, matching rings with growth rates to see how the trees reacted to different weather. Around the 49th parallel, they found something intriguing. South of the parallel, when trees encounter hot, dry weather, they tend to show stress. North of the parallel, the reaction changes: the trees respond much better to warmer weather. These trees could thrive in the longer growing season climate change could afford them.
Lead author of the study Loïc D’Orangeville told Gizmodo, “Generally, the scientific community agrees that because boreal forests are constrained by low temperatures, they should see some benefits from global warming.”
Where the forests grow in Quebec, winters are typically long and harsh. If winter shortens due to climate change, the trees might be able to grow for longer periods of time. Of course, there’s still the caveat of water: in warmer temperatures, trees need greater amounts to grow. At this point, however, the scientists think the warmer weather could outweigh the potential that there could be less water available.
Harvard senior ecologist and co-author Neil Pederson said, “It’s hope. It’s a bright spot…this dataset is showing us an area that might be dynamically okay. The trees are telling us that it might not be so bad.”