Climate Changes Force Hoosier Trees To Adapt

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July 15, 2013 — Some trees seem to be adapting to climate change by using less water. That’s the conclusion a team of researchers from several universities, including IU, has recently published in the journal Nature. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Gretchen Frazee reports on what the findings mean for Indiana forests…

Using atmospheric devices on a 150 tower in the Morgan Monroe State Forest, Indiana University researchers measured how much water vapor and gases were being absorbed and released by the forest.

That information, combined with similar data from forests around the world, has led researchers to the conclusion that with more carbon dioxide in the air, trees are using less water.

HaPe Schmidt headed IU’s piece of the project while he was a professor there. He is now the director of a meteorology and climate research institute in Germany. He says scientists knew this kind of thing could happen, but had never actually seen it in nature.

The really surprising finding, that is really puzzling in a way is that this saving of water was stronger than what was previously found in lab studies.”

That could be a good thing because it means trees are likely better able to withstand droughts. But if trees are using less water, that means trees are releasing less water into the atmosphere. That could mean means less rain.

Several IU researchers, including Assistant Biology Professor Rich Phillips, are continuing the research Schmidt began. Phillips says recent, drier conditions, including last year’s drought could provide new data to work with.

So one of the things that we need now to test is to say whether under these new conditions where it’s even getting drier does this increased efficient use of water, is that offset by when it gets really dry and the trees can’t continue to grow.

And researchers say the study shows a large-scale trend, but more research needs to be done to find out how individual forests are likely to react to climate change.

For Indiana Public Broadcasting, I’m Gretchen Frazee in Bloomington

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