Over the past decade, researchers have documented the increased vulnerability of large stands of a Southwestern forest icon – the pinyon pine – to the dangers associated with a warming climate: drought, insects, and wildfires.
Now, it appears that rising temperatures could also put a damper on pinyon reproduction, potentially limiting the ability of trees that survive the other scourges to recolonize disturbed areas, a recent study says.
Across nine stands of pinyon – two at the western tip of Oklahoma's panhandle and seven throughout New Mexico – the production of seed-bearing cones dropped 40 percent from a 10-year period centered on 1974 to another centered on 2008.
This study is troubling as these trees are the basis for many ecosystems in the area. The impact needs to be examined in the future as we see biome shifts across the country. This is not just happening with one species of trees as scientists are measuring the stress put on aspens from the drought and temperature increase.
But, most of the damage is not directly from climate change as scientists look at how these trees are having trouble reclaiming ground after all the Western fires. The significant drop in cone production and decrease in masting allows for other more aggressive species to take hold.
This serves as an update to climate change now underway.