Climate change report predicts resurgence of Missouri prized tree species

Thursday, March 6, 2014 | 7:52 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The long-term effects of climate change point to a resurgence of shortleaf pine, a prized tree species that thrived in Missouri 150 years ago.

Some of  the region's tree species, however, won't be so fortunate, according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service detailing the effects of climate change in the agency's central hardwoods region, which includes the Ozarks.

Sugar maple, white ash and American beech are vulnerable to a loss in numbers from an "increase in temperature, a longer growing season and less soil moisture toward the end of the growing season," according to a National Research Station news release about the report.

Shortleaf pine numbers should increase in the region, based on the extensive report on possible effects to hardwoods in the central region during the next 100 years.

The species is well-adapted to dry conditions and poor soil and was widespread until a surge in the logging industry during the 1800s, said Rose-Marie Muzika, MU professor of forestry.

"It's not a native tree to Boone County, but 150 years ago it was much more common," she said. "It's a highly prized tree."

Muzika said the more vulnerable species — sugar maple, white ash and American beech — are "on the fringe" of central Missouri, with small clusters in the Ozarks, but  the species primarily thrive in the Northeast and Appalachia.

Muzika said the findings of the long-term effects on mid-Missouri ecology in the region were to be expected. She's more concerned with possible effects on agriculture.

The Midwest lies on the boundary of wooded forest areas and agricultural lands, making it "a different kind of forest," with a wide array of ecosystems represented, Muzika said.

"Big change requires centuries to realize," Muzika said. "Big changes in agriculture could come right away but big changes in forestry take decades."

Effects on agriculture

Missouri's agriculture can expect lower yield from the changes in climate, said Don Day, the MU Extension associate of energy who has studied climate change effects on farming economy for several years.

"That's a year-to-year thing but in the long run we'll probably see lower yields," he said.

Missouri's main crops in the agriculture industry are corn, soy beans and wheat — all will be affected, he said.

Muzika said that effects of climate change hinge on numerous variables.

"Climate change is very unpredictable but it's also important to remember that nature too, is very unpredictable," Muzika said.

Local conditions must persist, trees must be able to reproduce, and drought and soil play a large role on the effects of those variables, Muzika said.

"Sustaining ecology systems is extremely important," Muzika said. "We need to plan for a huge scope of possibilities."

More report highlights

The report also highlights a concern for "forest fragmentation" that could make it harder for new species to live in "future climate conditions."

As the land becomes less habitable for certain species, it will take longer for new species to move into the places of current ones, according to the report.

"Forest landscape models indicate that a major shift in forest composition across the landscape may take 100 years or more in the absence of major disturbances," according to the report.

Climate conditions will increase fire risks by the end of the century, concluded contributors to the report, including Hong He, MU professor in the School of Natural Resources.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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