Climate Change Is Creating 'Zombie Forests' In California
Not on our 2023 bingo card: zombie forests. California's warming climate is resulting in native trees that are a mismatch for the weather. Here's what you need to know.
We love zombies in our media—less so in our environment. It seems that climate change has brought about a new kind of walking (or in this case, standing) dead: California is now home to a wealth of "zombie forests," a phenomenon that's slated to continue for decades to come.
What Is a Zombie Forest?
A new Stanford-led study published in the journal PNAS Nexus found that the iconic conifers native to California’s Sierra Nevada region are no longer suited for the area's climate. These mismatched conditions are resulting in what the study terms "zombie forests," with around 20% of the trees "temporarily cheating death."
In short, the conifers are unlikely to survive, much less thrive, as the weather continues to warm, and will ultimately be replaced by species better able to withstand the region's weather.
What Does This Mean for California?
By the study's estimation, these zombie forests are expected to double in number over the next 77 years regardless of human efforts to mitigate global warming.
“Given the large number of people who live in these ecosystems and the wide range of ecosystem services they confer, we should be looking seriously at options for protecting and enhancing the features that are most important,” said study co-author and Perry L. McCarty, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Chris Field, in an accompanying press release.
A researcher-created map could help determine decisions around wildfire, restoration, and community management as the area's ecosystem continues to shift. In the meantime, keep making everyday decisions that keep our planet—and the effects of human impact—in mind. Zombies are only cool in theory.
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