Current issue: 53(3)
Under compilation: 53(4)
Addressing the potential impact of climate change on boreal forest ecosystems will require a range of new conservation techniques. During the early 1990s, the scope of WWF's (the World Wide Fund for Nature) forest policy work has broadened from a focus on tropical moist forests to a more general consideration of all the world's forests. Climate change is only one of a series of threats currently facing boreal forests.
Planning conservation strategies that take account of global warming is not easy when there are many computer models of climate change, sometimes predicting very different ecological effects. Climate change could result in some particularly extreme problems for the boreal forest biome. A summary of the problems and opportunities in boreal forests is presented. WWF has also been drawing up strategies for conservation on a global, regional and national level. The organization has concluded that conservation strategies aimed at combatting climate change need not be in direct conflict with other conservation planning requirements. However, proposals have emerged for ways to address the impacts of climate change that would have detrimental impacts on existing conservation plans.
How will global warming affect southern populations of boreal trees? In paper birch, Betula papyrifera (Betulaceae), alpine trees with an evolutionary history of relatively cool summers may be more sensitive to climate warming than valley populations. We evaluated this scenario by growing seedlings from different populations in four temperature treatments (mountain field site, valley field site, and two greenhouse rooms).
Populations from low elevations germinated earlier and had higher germination success than population from high elevations (16.8 vs. 22.0 d; 72% vs. 11%). At the valley site, seedlings from native populations grew faster than seedlings from higher elevations (mean ± SE = 0.25 ± 0.02 vs. 0.09 ± 0.04 mm · cm-1 · d-1) while at the mountain site, all seedlings grew at similar rates. Seedling grown in cooler environments had higher root : shoot ratios, perhaps to compensate for temperature limitations in nutrient uptake by roots. Leaf area varied among populations but was not affected by environmental differences across the field sites. Net photosynthetic rates at valley temperatures were higher for seedlings grown in the valley than for seedling grown in the mountains or the warm greenhouse (12.0 vs. 10.3 and 5.8 μmoles · m-2 · s-1), perhaps due to adaptive phenotypic adjustments. Climatic warming could rapidly produce important phenotypic changes in birch trees (e.g. decreased root : shoot ratio, reduced growth in alpine populations). On a longer time-scale, warming could also result in genetic changes as natural selection favours valley genotypes in alpine sites where they are presently rare.