The American beech tree is thriving at the expense of other species, and that may be due to climate change, scientists say.
When people think of climate change, they often think of hotter weather, more violent storms, famine, rising sea levels, and other major consequences. But scientists have found that climate change can have some very subtle effects as well, such as on the tree population, and that could be very bad news for the future of the environment.
A new study claimings that the warming of the Earth is resulting in changes in the diversity of woodlands, with low-value beech trees thriving in comparison to other tree types. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, covers a period of 30 years in southeastern Canada and New England in the United States.
Beech is a common tree used for firewood, but it does not have much commercial value as it cannot be used for furniture and flooring, like maple and birch trees. In addition, the trees often die young because they get beech bark disease. Scientists think that higher temperatures and more rain in forests are allowing the beech tree to thrive more than others.
“The change from beech-maple-birch forests to more beech-dominated forestlands could have consequences for ecosystem structure and function, say the researchers,” reads a statement from the University of Maine. “Beech is associated with a widespread bark disease and is known to limit natural regeneration of other species. In addition, the wood has less commercial value. The significant increase in beech in the past three decades also has resulted in decreased incidence of sugar maple, red maple and birch. Factors in the changing forest composition include the ability of beech to shade out the other species.”