Scientists pinpoint areas in boreal forests that offer refuge to plants and animals as climate gets warmer and drier

By University of Alberta

North American boreal regions like this area near Fort McMurray in Alberta contain extensive, peat-forming wetlands that could offer havens for plant and animal species. Large, deep peatlands may delay the drying effects of climate change. Peatlands also provide refuge from wildfires because they burn less severely and less often, according to researchers. (Photo: Michel Rapinski)

North America’s boreal forests are warming and drying from climate change, but they still hold places that can offer refuge for plants and animals, according to University of Alberta scientists who have taken the lead in creating a guide to identify those areas.

The information about these sheltered places known as climate-change refugia—including large lakes, shaded slopes and ancient peatlands—can be used by regional experts to create detailed maps and management plans for conserving northern forested areas, said biologist Diana Stralberg, who led the study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“Our framework can serve as a road map for conservation and land-use planning, and represents a tool to manage biodiversity more efficiently in a changing and uncertain world,” said Stralberg. 

“We are trying to find those areas where things are changing a bit more slowly and where plants and animals have more opportunity to survive, whether they are already living there or could shift into those areas.”

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