Climate Change is Making Trees Grow Faster

The change although welcome in the short-term could threaten the entire ecosystem in the long run.

When it comes to climate change, there is not much good news. From natural disasters to mass extinction, its effects are more than worrisome.

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There is one area where it might be having a positive effect and that is tree growth. A new study found that Dahurian larch in China's northern forests grew more from 2005 to 2014 than in the previous 40 years.

The biggest growth spurts

The study that looked at growth rings also found that the oldest trees had the biggest growth spurts. Trees older than 400 years grew 80 percent more rapidly in those 10 years than in the past 300 years.

In the meantime, trees between 250 and 300 years old grew 35 percent more during that time period, while trees younger than 250 years grew between 11 and 13 percent more.

The increased growth, attributed to warmer soil temperatures, is good for the trees in the short-term but may destroy the forests in the long run. This is because the depth of the permafrost layer is being lowered allowing the trees' roots to expand and suck up more nutrients which leads to their growth.

An ecosystem under threat

However, if this continues, the permafrost underneath the trees may eventually degrade to the point where it can no longer support the trees. This would threaten the entire ecosystem.

"The disappearance of larch would be a disaster to the forest ecosystem in this region," said Xianliang Zhang, an ecologist at Shenyang Agricultural University in Shenhang, China, and lead author of the new study. 

The authors suspect the oldest trees have seen the most growth because they have a more developed root system that can suck up more nutrients in the short-term. 

"Their arguments make a lot of logical sense in terms of why the trees might benefit from the increased winter ground surface temperatures, which is that especially things like an earlier spring thaw could really help trees get growing earlier, more ability to have root activity in the cold months, these sort of things would make sense in why trees would benefit from warmer winters in particular," aid Erika Wise, an associate professor of geography at the University of North Carolina -- Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the new study.

The study is published AGU's Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

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