Special Perspectives

Forests of the Past: A Window to Future Changes

Science  13 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5882, pp. 1450-1452
DOI: 10.1126/science.1155457

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Abstract

The study of past forest change provides a necessary historical context for evaluating the outcome of human-induced climate change and biological invasions. Retrospective analyses based on fossil and genetic data greatly advance our understanding of tree colonization, adaptation, and extinction in response to past climatic change. For instance, these analyses reveal cryptic refugia near or north of continental ice sheets, leading to reevaluation of postglacial tree migration rates. Species extinctions appear to have occurred primarily during periods of high climatic variability. Transoceanic dispersal and colonization in the tropics were widespread at geological time scales, inconsistent with the idea that tropical forests are particularly resistant to biological invasions.

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