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Forests Adapting to Twentieth Century Climate Change

Contact: Catherine Herman (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 4, 2006) -- Trees in Russia are adapting to a warmer and wetter environment, according to a team of researchers from the United States and Europe. The typical shape of trees in Russian forests has undergone significant transformation in the latter half of the twentieth century, adapting to climate changes brought on by industrialization in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the article from the December issue of Global Change Biology. The paper, "Acclimation of Russian forests to recent changes in climate," suggests that mature trees in Russian forests have increased green parts (leaves and needles) but trunk size has diminished.

"The changes in tree growth patterns was observed on a continental scale," said Andrei Lapenis, an associate professor of climatology at the University at Albany's Department of Geography and Planning at the College of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. "As forests in Russia have been subject to more dramatic shifts in climate in the last 40 years as compared to other boreal regions around the world, study of the region can showcase emerging global tree growth patterns other parts of the world as a result of global warming."

"Overall, modern mature trees have a greater percentage of leaves and needles than trees of the same age and species just forty or fifty years ago," said Lapenis. "This thinning of trunks and spread of canopy represent a physiologic adaptation of trees to changing climate. The applications of these finding are quite wide from the interpretation of satellite data to global carbon budget and evolutionary theory."

Among the findings:

  • Relationship between climate and tree rings has changed. Modern trees are less sensitive to climate variations than the same trees about 40 years ago.

  • The "light green" coniferous such as pine and larch demonstrate greater phenotype plasticity and range of adaptations than deciduous species.

  • Satellite data on persistent "greening" of trees canopy should not be interpreted as an evidence of large carbon sink to Russian forests

  • Recent warming of climate significantly reduces the ability of Russian forests to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Read the paper, "Acclimation of Russian forests to recent changes in climate" >>
(PDF file, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

About the Department of Geography and Planning
The University at Albany's Department of Geography and Planning is a pioneer and national leader in the integration of its constituent disciplines. Its' faculty are engaged in research, teaching and consultancy in many parts of the world, and they encourage students to build on their own life and work experience, to think globally and to act locally. Geography and planning employ a wide range of skills, including writing, documentary research, interviewing, graphic design, computing and statistics. Both disciplines have a strong interest in cities, urban environments, and urban design.

About the College of Arts and Sciences
The University at Albany's College of Arts & Sciences is the largest academic unit at the University. It provides the general education foundation of the undergraduate curriculum and is the intellectual base for study in a wide variety of disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The College's programs promote critical thinking and reasoning, aesthetic sensibility, and intellectual development, while providing career preparation to help students meet the challenges of the future and achieve their goals.


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