Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Climate is changing too quickly for the Sierra Nevada's 'zombie forests'

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, HOST:

Climate change is happening too quickly for some trees in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. New research shows that 1 in 5 conifers likely won't survive the climate conditions they now live in. NPR's Joe Hernandez reports on the fate of these so-called zombie forests.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: Even if you've never been to the Sierra Nevadas, you can probably picture the striking terrain.

AVERY HILL: Ponderosa pines, Jeffrey pines. There are some Douglas firs in there, as well. And these typically large, tall trees dominate these forests in the landscape.

HERNANDEZ: That's Avery Hill, who studied these trees as a graduate student at Stanford University. Hill and other researchers compared vegetation data from the 1930s to the present, and they found that 20% of the conifers in the California Sierra Nevadas are now a mismatch for the climate they live in. That means it's only a matter of time before these trees die out and get replaced with other types of plants.

HILL: They're kind of, you know, cheating death in a way. We think of them as the standing dead.

HERNANDEZ: That's why Hill and others have started calling these areas zombie forests. And the reason these conifers are in such danger is because the climate has changed a lot. Temperatures are warming, and there's less rainfall in these areas, which are also seeing an increase in wildfires and human activities like logging.

HILL: So altogether, these drivers are shaping kind of the forest of the future.

HERNANDEZ: The researchers made maps showing exactly where these Sierra Nevada zombie forests are, and Hill hopes that'll help put climate change into perspective for viewers.

HILL: It's not backwards looking like I think a lot of the kind of ecosystem change conversations are. It's forward looking and saying, OK, well, now what (laughter)?

HERNANDEZ: Having the knowledge of what climate change will do ahead of time gives people a choice, Hill says - try to resist or contain these changes or accept that they're going to happen. Joe Hernandez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.