We tend to consider forest as a place of peace and tranquility. But behind the tranquility, forest is a wild place where everything is possible to happen. Well, for more precisely, we would say that something impossible might happen instead.
One of the most impossible things that can happen to a forest is how it moves from one place to another. Still thinking that it is impossible? In fact, almost every single forest on earth is migrating from its original place to another place slowly.
You should know that the pace and direction of forest migration can be affected by human activities. In addition to that, in this era where rapid climate change is happening, we must prepare ourselves to witness greater pace of forest migration.
Seems like an interesting topic isn’t it? Let’s talk about forest migration and how outer factors can affect it.
How Forest Migrates
Talking about forest migration, you should know upfront that we are not talking about walking trees that use their roots as legs like depicted in cartoons. Forest migration, in fact, occur more naturally and through many generations.
The trees don’t use their roots as feet, but instead they use their seeds to migrate. Of course, the pace and establishment success depend highly on seed dispersal capacity of tree species. In addition to that, land supports such as water and nutrients availability also play their roles in this scenario.
Unlike animal migration, forest migration highly depends on the condition of environment. Simply said, it might just appear as some seedlings grow better toward one direction compared to other seedlings in opposite direction after seeds being spread from the main trees.
“As old trees die and new ones sprouts up, the forest is, ever so slightly, moving. The migration of a forest is just many trees sprouting in the same direction,” Zach St. George, the author of book The Journeys of Trees, stated.
“The migration of a forest is communal, it’s constant. It is accomplished over many generations. It’s a question of the species succeeding more in one part of its range, becoming more abundant in one part of its range, and less abundant in another part of its range,” St. George explained.
The Act Of Migration
Almost every single forest is actually migrating, but some show more significant progress as well as more noticeable compared to the others. Some examples of noticeable forest migrations are Scandinavian tree migration, Catalonia tree elevation shift, and Swedish Scandes vegetation elevation rise.
Scandinavian tree migration has happened since the last 8 millenniums ago. Fossilized pollens of Tilia, Picea, Fagus, and Quercus trees were found in various locations but the movements could be tracked back. Tilia and Quercus species particularly moved northward, while Fagus and Picea just expand their range.
For Catalonia core trees, populations of two tree species (European Beech or Fagus sylvatica; and Holm Oak or Quercus ilex) showed movement toward higher elevation. Researchers predicted, an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in tested mountain range was the reason for this migration.
While for Swedish Scandes, the migration happened just recently, around in 2002 where saplings were found in elevation previously never seen. 5 decades earlier, no seedlings were found above 1095 meters above sea level, but the 2002 discovery was made at above 1370 meters above sea level.
As you can see, forest migrations don’t happen in just one night, and the signs of migrations can only be seen after some times later. In addition to that, it happens when the species of trees are looking for a more comfortable environment than where the main tree is currently living.
When Climate Change Takes Action
Talking about forest migrating, we should also talk about the factors that cause forest migration. In this case, we should talk about one specific external factor called climate change. You might have caught the hints from explanation above that trees tend to adapt to changes in climate by migrating.
“Vegetation is always an expression of the climate, and as climate changed, great masses of vegetation developed, advanced, retreated, or in many instances, perished, leaving only the carbonized remains deep in the strata in parts of the globe where today cheerless winds blow monotonously over bleak ice and snowfields thousands of feet in depth,” a 1939 paper by John Potzger explained it .
Sooner or later, forest will always migrate because the earth’s climate is changing naturally. However, in this era we are living nowadays, climate change happens rapidly. All of this thanks to our unfathomable desire to burn fossil fuel.
This naturally long process should happen not in rush, because then the trees can prepare to adapt with their new environment. Some area can provide similar climate but it has less nutrients and water for the trees to grow well. As a result, we may face a forest extinction.
“Climate change is going to have these really dramatic effects on forests. We’re going to lose a lot of forests. We’re going to see species rearranged. We’ll probably see more fires and droughts and millions of dead trees,” as explained by St. George.
The Pace Of Nowadays Migration
Let’s further talk about the pace of nowadays forest migration. The rapid changes in climate nowadays of course is a huge drive force for it, and many species of trees as well as many indigenous species all around the world cannot follow the pace.
One of the examples is California, where local temperature is getting hotter and wildfire occur more often and wilder. Scientists have actually predicted this condition to happen long time ago. The reason is because Joshua Tree National Park might not a suitable place for Joshua tree.
Similar thing might also apply to Sequoia National Park. “They worried that maybe Sequoia National Park would no longer be the place for giant sequoias. And I think at some point we will lose these ancient trees and we will have to think about what we do with the places, and do we plant new groves somewhere else?” St. George stated.
In this scenario, assisted migration might be a choice to be made. And researchers just discovered that they can do it with the assistance of flamethrower. Flamethrowers can help forest by giving them the ‘nudge’ they need to migrate faster.