The trees are on the move.
Warmer, drier conditions in much of the eastern United States has resulted in dozens of America’s most common tree species shifting their ranges over the last three decades, scientists report in a new study published in the journal Science Advances. Pines and other evergreens in the Southeast are growing farther north than they did in the years before 1980, while oaks, maples, and other Northeastern hardwoods are now growing more to the west of their traditional territories.
The geographic center of some species’ ranges has been moving more than a mile a year, said Songlin Fei, an ecologist at Purdue University who led the study. While previous studies have shown trees shifting northward and toward higher elevations in response to warming temperatures, Fei’s research suggests that the shift may have more to do with changes in rainfall.
“The Southeast has had a dramatic reduction in precipitation,” Fei said. “The western portion of the study area has more moisture available compared to the historical average.”