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Wait, what? Trees move too? 

by Bharat Duggal
Wait, what? Trees move too? 

September 29, 2020

We see giant trees giving us shade and fruits throughout the year, but do you know that these enormous trees can actually migrate? Considering their vast size, it’s hard to think of them as mobile entities. But, to everyone’s surprise, they do move, although exceptionally slowly. Scientists have been able to track their movement across continents (while some continents prefer to move literally) using fossils that are left behind by ancient forests.

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Root system of trees in the Sunderbans

Range Migration

Trees move in groups such as whole forests. A 2015 article by the BBC mentioned how some trees move as the growth of new roots slowly relocates them, sometimes two or three centimeters per day. The movement process can take up to a couple of years as well. 

Experts call the event ‘range migration,’ which means that tree species are shifting into scenes where they don’t usually grow. Single trees, of course, can’t pick up and move when situations get tough. But seedlings survive in favorable habitats, raising and casting off their seeds. Whereas in harsh conditions, such as drought, flooding, and temperature limits, seedlings and mature trees alike are exposed to risks of getting killed.

"As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m. Then, slowly, as the roots settle in the new soil and the tree bends patiently toward the new roots, the old roots slowly lift into the air.”

- Peter Vrsansky, palaeobiologist
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Seed Dispersal

In recent years, the movement of trees has become more rapid. Scientists cite global warming as the reason behind this. Unlike the birds, trees don’t all go to the Poles, where the environment is cooler. Instead, they head west, where nature is getting wetter.

A study in the Journal of Science Advances stated that some species, such as evergreens, are heading to the Poles to escape the heat while others, like certain oaks and maple, are going west in search of rain. Scientists are practicing assisted migration to push them to migrate faster.

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American beech and eastern hemlock have been ecological partners for thousands of years. Climate change is moving them apart.

Role of Global Warming

Researchers compared the delivery of trees in 1980 and 2015, calculating the trees’ movements, distance, and direction. During the more than thirty consecutive years covered by the research, the average annual temperature in the eastern United States of America, where they collected the data, increased around 0.3 °F on an average.

The northern areas of that particular region saw among the most massive temperature increments. Rainfall patterns in the areas also changed during those years, as increasing heat spurred in widespread droughts, another reason for trees to gravitate toward the rain.

 

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Nothing to look here. Just an aesthetic tree.

The trees are migrating as we speak, but will they be fast enough to escape the wrath of global climate change?

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