The effects of drought on Western America have been well documented as the unusually warm and dry conditions kill trees, spread wildfires and encourage pest infestations. Researchers are saying that the harmful effects are likely to spread to the east as nearly all forests are affected by the heat from increasing climate change and drought.

In a paper published online in the journal Global Change Biology, the researchers from Duke University said that the occurring drought in the American West could become severe, prolonged and more frequent across the whole country.

"Given the high degree of uncertainty in our understanding of how forest species and stands adapt to rapid change, it's going to be difficult to anticipate the type of forests that will be here in 20 to 40 years," James S. Clark, a Nicholas Professor of Environmental Science at Duke University, said.

Knowledge Gap

"This assessment indicates that, without a stronger empirical basis for drought impacts at the stand scale, more complex models may provide limited guidance," the researchers concluded.

The paper provides an overview of how these effects differ by region. Also, it shows what knowledge gap is present that hampers the ability of scientists to forecast the extent and pace of drought effects.

Uncertainty, however, is still present on things that might happen in the species-wide levels in Eastern forests.

"These are the scales where we really need reliable predictions so forest managers can take steps now to help reduce large-scale problems," Clark said.

Efforts should be focused more on understanding the complex interactions of trees and species as well as conditions of the environment. The paper provides a repository of data describing the current condition of U.S. forests. Land managers who oversee forests can use this information to improve their resilience on drought and adaption practices.

New Approach To Predict Drought Impacts

With the impending spread of the effects of drought across the U.S., scientists suggest a way to help predict the extent and pace of these effects in forests in the country.

The idea behind the new study is to provide a foundation for awareness of current and future effects of drought forests across the U.S. The new approach can inform federal officials on practices that can help reduce some of its harmful effects.

Photo: Ken Lund | Flickr 

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.