Bristlecone Pines Love The Warming

Unlike the currently popular cataclysm movies, say The Road, and 2012, science does not predict a total, bare-earth result from the rising oceans, warming mountain tops, dying coral reefs of climate change. No. It predicts there will be winners and losers. In fact, though I have seen no specific predictions, there should be many winners, in the millions, all eventually to be known as new species. Those off-spring of now living creatures, which successfully adapt to new environments will be the wonders of some new world. In fact, my prediction is, there will be humans around to observe these wonders. Perhaps even a new species; perhaps even smart enough to embrace cooperation as vigorously as it now embraces competition.

The worry is the the process itself, and who suffers and who survives along the way. Planning to win a war is one thing. Working to stop it is something else again. Just ask the sleek and proud German armies which cut their way into the Soviet Union in the spring and summer of 1941. There was no conceivable way they were going to suffer large casualties much less be proven totally wrong in planning, implementation, use of technology or brains. But it happened. So, if the currently dominant species persists in going forward, as is, the winners are not at all certain.

One species that seems to be thriving under new circumstances is the fabulous bristlecone pine — those trees that climb higher along the tree-line than any other. They survive, and have for thousands of years, above 12,000 feet in cold, oxygen thin air. Something has been happening for a few decades which has made them grow faster than in all the years preceding. Examination of their tree rings has shown faster growth.

Warmer weather, say the scientists. At 12,000 feet.

A good thing, right? The Deborah Saunders, and Tom Coburns and other science doubters will seize on this evidence (evidence which they like) to show that all is well with the world.

Of course lateral thinking is anathema to them. Warmer for bristle-cone means warmer for worms, for insects, for birds, for small furry animals. It means warmer not just at the treeline, but below the treeline. Some creatures from lower altitudes may climb higher to get out of the new heat — and may, or may not, adapt to the new oxygen regime. Other creatures at the tree line may want to get out of the new heat there, and find there is nowhere to go, where temperature, oxygen, food, water can sustain them. Adapt or die.

With painstaking effort, the researchers counted thousands of rings and measured the width between the rings on more than 750 trees in four bristlecone groves in California’s White Mountains plus two in Nevada, hundreds of miles away.

The California trees included a group around the famous 4,781-year-old bristlecone greybeard named Methuselah, reputedly the oldest living tree in the world. The scientists also studied trees in the Patriarch cluster, a mere 1,500 years old, and in another younger group at Cottonwood Creek.

Salzer’s observations of plants and animals find a striking parallel to recent findings by UC Berkeley scientists working at lower elevations in the Sierra Nevada.

A year ago, Craig Moritz and James L. Patton at UC’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology reported that for 90 years temperatures have been climbing from the Sierra foothills in the San Joaquin Valley across Yosemite and down to Mono Lake – and that as the higher elevations have warmed, 28 species of mountain mammals – voles, mice and chipmunks have all shifted their habitats upward – to elevations as much as 1,650 feet higher than before.

Read more at SF

And more at Science Blog.

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