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Warmer weather, human disturbances interact to change forests

PORTLAND - While a rapidly changing climate may alter the composition of northern Wisconsin's forests, disturbances such as logging also will play a critical role in how these sylvan ecosystems change over time.

Details will be presented on Friday, Aug. 6, at the annual Ecological Society of America conference in Portland, Ore.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers used a computer-modeling program to project 200 years of change in a forest in northwestern Wisconsin under three climate scenarios. In one scenario, they assumed no change from current temperature and precipitation conditions; in the other two scenarios, they used data from global forecasts that predict a hotter, wetter climate.

The model also took into account land development, along with processes like harvesting and changes in carbon storage due to climate change.

"If the climate were to warm, we project that many northern species would not be able to reproduce or compete well, and southern species that are adapted to warmer conditions, such as the oaks and hickories found in southern Wisconsin, would move in," says Robert Scheller, a UW-Madison postdoctoral forestry researcher with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

In fact, Scheller and forestry professor David Mladenoff found that some species - including jack pine, red pine, white spruce, balsam fir and paper birch - would not be able to survive warmer conditions.

But human actions also contribute to this changing landscape, according to the results.

Says Scheller, "Human influence greatly modifies change in the forests, and logging and fragmentation would affect the northward migration of southern species during a period of climate warming."

Although scientists know that species migration occurs as the climate changes - there is evidence of this from the last ice age, Scheller says - for at least the next 100 years, disturbances such as harvesting or wind damage
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Contact: Robert Scheller
rmscheller@wisc.edu
608-265-6321
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1-Aug-2004


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