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Moving on Up: The Possible Impact of Climate Change on Forest Habitats

This article is from Issue Climate Change - Vol. 14 No. 1.

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The scientists in this study were interested in trees that live in the Eastern United States. They wanted to explore how the habitat of these trees might change in the future as the climate changes. They also wanted to know how different tree species might move in response to a changing climate.

Welcome to the Climate Change edition

Note to Educators

Journal Lesson Plan

Word Search

Word Scramble

Education Standards Correlations

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Additional Resources for this Article:
Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
When scientists study climate change, they often look toward the future. The job of these scientists is to predict what might happen as the climate changes over time. Because no one knows for sure what will happen in the future, predicting it is a big challenge for scientists. In general, scientists take two main steps to predict what might happen. First, they look at past or current situations. Often, scientists track what has happened over time, from a time period in the past to the present. This is called a trend. For example, scientists have tracked changes in the average yearly temperature since 1880 (figure 1). The second thing scientists do to predict the future is create a computer model. A model is a mathematical representation of a system. For example, consider figure 1. If everything continues to be the same in the future as it was in the past, scientists can imagine what the line in figure 1 might look like in the future. They do this by taking the same information collected in the past and applying it to the future. Scientists studying climate change sometimes use different models to represent different possible futures. This is because what happened in the past might be different than what will occur in the future. In the case of rising temperatures, for example, scientists might consider both a future with a small rise in average temperatures, and one with a larger rise in average temperatures. In this study, the scientists used one model that assumed people will continue to burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate for decades into the future. They used another model that assumed people will conserve fuels by doing things like driving less and using less electricity. In the second model, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere was expected to be less than the amount emitted in the first model.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Almost everyone lives in a community. Did you know that trees live in communities too? These communities are different than human communities. Forest communities are made up of different species of trees that are commonly found living in the same area. Foresters name these forest communities after the most common species of trees living there. The scientists in this study were interested both in individual species of trees and in forest communities. To understand how forest communities might change in the future, the scientists had to study individual species of trees. They did this because although trees in the same community live in the same general habitat, some trees can survive in other habitats as well. As the climate changes, therefore, some trees in the community might die off, and others might survive. If this happens, the forest community will change.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Forest Community
  • Habitat

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Regulation and behavior (C)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Understandings about science and technology (E)