You know that everyone expects native plants to move around the community as native plants do. But you never expected to go up-north, escaping from the heat, and west, escaping to the valley, as a result of climate change!
As the planet warms, the native plants are moving up slopes and toward the poles and to the valleys where water is. That is altering what people can eat; sparking new disease risks; outstanding events like wildfires, earthquakes and hurricanes; impacts of the land and sea; and changing the way we immigrate.
Range-shifting or climate-tracking habitat species will create mass alterations and reshuffle ecosystems in ways that are hard to predict. A Woods Hole Research Center study of 40 tree species finds that balsam fir, quaking aspen, black cherry, yellow birch, red maple, sugar maple, eastern hemlock, white ash, northern red oak, white oak, American beech, and red spruce are among the species most vulnerable to warming temperatures. See the high-resolution maps ranking tree species’ vulnerability.
Warming is shifting the timing of biological cycles. Globally, frogs and other amphibians are breeding an average of eight days earlier with each passing decade, while birds and butterflies are reproducing four days earlier. By revisiting records kept by Walden author Henry David Thoreau, scientists showed that plants of all kinds in Concord, Massachusetts, now flower about 18 days earlier than they did in the 1850s.
“Where the change will end up isn’t easy to predict as the species within an ecosystem shift in space and time. They’re not all shifting at the same pace, and they’re not all responding to the same signals. Some are adapting to temperature changes, others are more influenced by sunlight or changes in precipitation. In California, some mountain plants, such as hemlock, are actually moving downhill, toward warmer temperatures, as climate shifts bring more precipitation to once dry valleys. In one Colorado region, wildflower blooms now last a month longer because flowers no longer bloom all at once.” (National Geographic)
Note: In the 2021, I experienced myself — the native plants “no longer bloom all at once.” They seem to come in the spring, then in the summer, then in the fall, and systemically not all together.
Some species may move across landscapes or habitats, as warming temperatures and changing ecological conditions alter their habitat. As for trees and plants, they move and adapt to warming temperatures through reproduction and seed distribution.
As a result, trees and plants maintenance managers are now including the concept of “connectivity,” which entails working with neighbors and land conservancies to enable migratory corridors and pathways for species of all kinds to move.
What is invasive or not? The scientists and environmental philosophers now question whether a concept defined by a species’ geographic origin can capture the ethical and ecological complexities of life on a rapidly changing planet. There is no disturbed ecosystem, and this will only become truer as climate change and habitat loss accelerate. Could it be adjusted to understand the impacts of range-shifters? Climate-tracking and range-shifting caused extraordinary circumstances. If a species flees a habitat that is burning or melting, is it invasive?
In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13112 establishing the National Invasive Species Council. It defined an invasive species as a non-native species “to prevent the introduction of invasive species and provide for their control and to minimize the economic, ecological, and human health impacts that invasive species cause….”
“There is something humbling in seeing other species’ will to survive in an interconnected world undone by climate change. Though the dark unicorns’ movements elude our understanding, they already know where they need to go.” (The Vox)