Across the U.S., volunteers are hiking into the woods to observe two species of trees — the Balsam Poplar and Quaking Aspen. These citizen scientists monitor the trees throughout the year and share their observations with researchers.

PhotoElmore: “How many leaves it has, the color of the leaves, the size of the trees, when the leaves appear on the tree, what time of year it is, how much spring warmth is required to produce the leaves…”

That’s Andrew Elmore of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He says that all trees within a species are not the same. By learning how Poplar and Aspen differ by region, and the genetic basis for that diversity, researchers can predict how the trees will respond to rapid climate change.

Elmore: “They might migrate. They might adapt as a species, meaning their population structure might change over time. Or they might just go extinct.”

Knowing which trees can or cannot withstand warmer temperatures could help conservationists prioritize their efforts to save the species. Options include preserving areas with well-adapted trees and transplanting cold-loving varieties as their habitat moves further north.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Quaking Aspen trees. Copyright protected.

More Resources
Center for Environmental Science, University of Maryland
Appalachian Laboratory team receives NSF grant to predict how trees will adapt to rapid climate change
Citizen scientist project recognized for tracking leaf changes on poplar trees
Appalachian Laboratory scientists receive highest university award

Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC, in Annapolis, Md. Her writing covers the environment, energy, food security, agriculture,...