A Science for Everyone, Wildlife

No Climax Species When Climate Changes

Half a century ago, I was exposed to the concept of a climax species – and I really liked the idea that there would be a single identifiable species of tree (or grass) that would indicate all I need to know about the climate, the environment.

I thought of the dominance of ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass on the Tobacco Plains, versus the dominant Douglas Fir/Western Larch around Trego – and the 4-inch difference between the annual precipitation that shows up with 400’ difference in elevation and a quarter degree of latitude. 

Somewhere over that half-century, I gradually came to realize that climate, like weather, changes.  A glance at the drumlins north of Eureka provides evidence of the retreating glaciers.  The old shorelines of glacial lake Missoula show that things have changed.  In southern Colorado, the same annual precipitation that supports Douglas Fir forest in Trego supports pinon pine and rubber rabbitbrush.  Entrepreneur.com explains that George Church, Ph.D.  is working on genetically recovering the Wooly Mammoth – 

The reason is this: One of the greatest threats to the earth is the melting of the arctic permafrost and its massive release of the greenhouse gasses that are stored safely in its freeze. When the herds of woolly mammoth and other animals vanished, that area became covered with a forest that keeps the earth warmer. Church is betting on the idea that a resurrected population of the mammoths, if let loose in the arctic, would chomp and stomp down the bush and trees, exposing the earth to subzero temperatures and allowing the tundra’s original grasslands to grow back. That ecosystem, maintained by the large creatures, would then effectively sequester carbon, rather than allowing it back into the atmosphere.”

Author: Liz Brody, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/384478

Dr. Church has partnered with Texan Ben Lamm to fund this project – Lamm says it will take six to eight years to get the baby mammoths on the ground.  I had mammoth bones and teeth at the TSJC museum, along with bison antiquus from Folsom – so I have a decent idea how big the critters are.  Church is from Harvard – Boston – close to sea level.  Lamm is from Texas – a state that doesn’t have a lot of experience with continental glaciation.

I suspect your view of climate change is related to your location.  I live at 3,000 feet elevation.  A rising sea level isn’t much of a concern.  At just shy of the 49th parallel, a bit of global warming doesn’t threaten me as much as it does Texas, or Boston harbor.

Still, I’m not certain this is all that good an idea.  I don’t particularly want the glaciers back . . . and bears in the apple trees are enough of a nuisance.  I don’t know what it would take to fence out a wooly mammoth.

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