“Savannification” Still Expected in North Woods

Prairie Border Savanna. Photo by Layne Kennedy
Prairie Border Savanna. Photo by Layne Kennedy

University of Minnesota forest ecologist Lee Frelich continues to foresee a transition from forest to savanna taking place at the margins of Minnesota’s north woods.  Newly published research suggests that within the century, climate and ancillary factors will make significant changes to the state’s prairie/forest border.

You can read the abstract to Frelich’s research HERE, in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The StarTribune has a story on the subject HERE.

Frelich’s earlier research — noted previously HERE on Wilderness News Online — has also pointed to a transition in the northern Minnesota from forests to savanna projects.  Of his current findings, he says:

“The climate of the future will likely lead to higher mortality among mature trees, because of the greater frequency of droughts, fires, forest-leveling windstorms, and outbreaks of native and exotic insect pests and diseases. In addition, increasing populations of native deer and European earthworm invasions will inhibit the establishment of tree seedlings.”

Frelich told the StarTribune that the forest/savanna border could move from 60 to 300 miles to the northeast, with tree species jack pine, black spruce, balsam fir, and aspen being hard-hit by the transiton, since they currently grow at the southern end of their range in Minnesota.

“The expected net impact of these factors will be a ‘savannification’ of the forest, owing to the loss of adult trees at a rate faster than that at which they can be replaced,” Frelich says in his research.  “This will cause a greater magnitude and more rapid northeastward shift of the prairie–forest border, as compared with a shift solely attributable to the direct effects of temperature change.”

In the brand new issue of Wilderness News, HERE, contributor Rob Kesselring ponders what “savannafication” could mean for the Quetico-Superior.

You can also read the feature on the subject we ran in the Summer 2008 issue of Wilderness News HERE.

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