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California's oak woodlands face a new threat: Climate change

SANTA CRUZ, CA--California's iconic oak woodlands have endured many assaults over the years--they've been cut for fuel, cleared for vineyards and housing developments, and their seedlings face intense grazing pressure and competition from invasive grasses. But the future will bring a new threat--climate change--which could drastically reduce the areas in which oaks can grow.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have taken a close look at the implications of climate change for two familiar California oak species--blue oak and valley oak. Their findings will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will appear in the November 8 issue of the journal.

The researchers found that the areas of the state where the climate is suitable for these species to grow will shift northward and could shrink to nearly half their current size as a result of global warming.

"Species such as oaks that we think of as occurring throughout California and that are such a recognizable part of the landscape are vulnerable to climate change. It's not just the rare and endangered species that will be affected," said Lara Kueppers, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and first author of the study.

The researchers used sophisticated climate models to project what California's climate may be like in the final decade of the 21st century, assuming a "business-as-usual" scenario for ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases. Based on those projections, they predicted the potential ranges for blue oak and valley oak under the new climatic conditions, and compared that with their ranges under current conditions.

Other researchers have used global climate models to study how the geographic areas where various species occur are likely to shift as a result of climate change. Even with powerful supercomputers, however, global climate models are limited in how much detail they can provide on a regional le
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-4352
University of California - Santa Cruz
31-Oct-2005


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