What is it about?

Plant species are the most sensitive to temperature fluctuations, atmospheric CO₂ levels, and droughts during the early stages of their lives. An increase in global temperatures has exacerbated these environmental changes, affecting the survival of plant seedlings. Thus, predicting the growth and survival of different plant species under environmental stress is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, conventional simulation techniques used for this purpose are not equipped to provide accurate predictions. To understand the effect of environmental changes on plants with great-er accuracy, the authors of this study conducted controlled experiments with the seedlings of three ecologically important plant species: balsam fir, red spruce, and red maple. To do so, they closely monitored the changes in biomass, height, and diameter of these seedlings under exposure to warming, drought, and elevated levels of CO₂. They discovered that CO₂ enrichment enhanced the growth of all three seedlings. Contrastingly, only red spruce seedlings increased in height upon exposure to increased warming. The biomass of the red spruce seedlings was not impacted compared with that of the balsam fir seedlings under conditions of drought. The red maple seedlings did not die under temperature and moisture stress, unlike the other two species. In fact, the red maple seedlings exhibited much greater growth and survival among the three conifers under exposure to warming.

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Why is it important?

The growth of boreal-temperature tree species in ecological transition zones such as the Acadian Forest Region (AFR) will exhibit different physiological responses to the rising temperatures caused by global warming. In this regard, the findings strongly suggest that warm-adapted species will outgrow colder-adapted conifers in warmer climates. The study also indicates that adaptive management strategies should be established to reduce the competition for survival among plant species and to prevent the decline of cold-adapted species such as balsamic fir and red spruce in the AFR. KEY TAKEAWAY: Physiological responses to rising temperatures, CO₂ levels, and drought vary significantly across tree species. Further experiments on 2- and 3-year-old juvenile trees of different species can shed light on their growth patterns under long-term exposure to elevated CO₂ levels and rising temperatures.

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This page is a summary of: Climate change experiment suggests divergent responses of tree seedlings in eastern North America’s Acadian Forest Region over the 21st century, Canadian Journal of Forest Research, December 2021, Canadian Science Publishing,
DOI: 10.1139/cjfr-2021-0047.
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