Plants in US Southwest Moving Higher as the Climate Warms

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treeNumerous plant species on a mountain in the southwestern U.S. are migrating to higher elevations as the climate gets warmer and drier, according to a new study.

After comparing the results of a recent survey of 27 plants found on Mount Lemmon, a 9,157-foot peak near Tucson, Ariz., with a similar survey conducted in 1963, researchers at the University of Arizona found that three-quarters of the plants have shifted their range “significantly” upslope in the last five decades.

In some cases, researchers found that the plants had moved upward by as much as 1,000 feet, into a much narrower elevation range than where the plants existed in the early 1960s.

Writing in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the researchers note that the lowermost boundary for 15 of the species has shifted upslope. “If climate continues to warm, as the climate models predict, the subalpine mixed conifer forests on the tops of the mountains — and the animals dependent upon them — could be pushed right off the top and disappear,” said Richard C. Brusca, a research scientist who led the study.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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