The Future of Spring in Our Forests
Climate change poses a major challenge to society. Warmer winters, hotter summers and shifting storm patterns will reshape our ecosystems and industries, including agriculture, tourism and forestry. There will also be cascading impacts on the day-to-day lives of most Canadians. Preparing for these new climate realities requires accurate predictions of how species and their ecological communities will change.
Critical to these predictions is one of the most frequently observed changes to date: earlier springs. Plants produce leaves days and weeks earlier than they did 40 years ago. This is because the timing of spring leaf-out affects important ecosystem services. As well, increasing evidence suggests that changes in leaf-out are tied to how well (or how poorly) species fare with warming. As a result, spring leaf-out may be a major controller of the species that comprise Canada’s forests.
Dr. Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, Canada Research Chair in Temporal Ecology, studies the cues that drive spring leaf-out across temperate and boreal trees and shrubs—such as cool winter temperatures, warm spring temperatures and day length—to build accurate predictions of how these species will shift in the future. She and her research team then combine these estimates with data on how the species perform under warmer conditions to predict future forest communities.
Wolkovich’s research program will give conservation biologists, land managers and foresters critical information about what future springs and future Canadian forests will look like. This information can help us to reduce species loss, avoid forest decline and prepare for a warmer future.