Forests Can Migrate — But Can’t Outrun Climate Change

by Anshul Dash

Many animals are known for their migration patterns, from birds to butterflies and wildebeest. However, most people don’t know that trees migrate as well. Science writer Zach St. George has studied the movement of whole forests and published his work in his new book The Journey of Trees. He has stated that forests move as “old trees die and new ones sprout up.”

According to St. George, forests migrate when multiple trees sprout in the same direction. He says that scientists can track the movement of trees through ancient fossils left behind by old forests. There is also evidence that forests follow the same route back and forth, like most whales and birds that migrate. Although forests send out seeds in all the directions, it is the seeds in the north that thrive the most. This causes forests to move northward over time.

The migration of forests has been happening for millions of years. Scientists have deduced that climate change is the reason behind these migrations. However, the rate of climate change is increasing by the minute, and the forests can’t seem to keep up the pace. For example, the climate in California is becoming hotter and drier. Because of this, Joshua Tree National Park may not be able to sustain Joshua trees in the long run. A similar threat is being posed in Sequoia National Park due to the recent California drought. 

In order to combat this problem, scientists have come up with “assisted migration” — people planting trees in areas where they’re likely to thrive. However, it isn’t the best solution since people can accidentally introduce insects, new plants, and other diseases that can potentially wipe out these tree populations. Because of this, there’s a huge debate between scientists and conservationists as to whether or not humans should assist in forest migration. 

St. George has new hopes for the migration of forests after publishing his new book. He said that climate change will cause dramatic changes to forests, stating that some of them could be lost because of climate change. Through publishing his book, St. George hopes to raise awareness regarding the current condition of forests worldwide, and he hopes that people will take action to combat climate change.