Flora of North America - The Outreach Resources

North American Plant Distributions:
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Charting Climate Change Effects

How will plants respond to climate change? Will they migrate to suitable habitat and form new communities? Will their behavior, physiology, and reproduction adapt? Or will they become extinct? Climate change is expected to affect individual plants, plant communities, interactions between plants and animals, and entire ecosystems.

Plant communities across the globe are responding as predicted. Describe the general shifts in distribution shown in the charts below.

Will future climate change be too rapid for plants to adapt to existing locations or migrate to new habitats, meeting new competitors and pests? Plants are rooted in place. Being stationary organisms makes plants susceptible to rapid climate change because they can migrate only when dispersing seeds for the next generation. Barriers to migration may prevent some plants and animals from moving to new habitats. List three man-made obstacles and three natural barriers.

The average temperature across the world will increase with global warming, but the effects of climate change will vary from region to region. Consider each situation below and predict how plants will respond to climate changes in each area.

Florida Keys, Florida Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
The conditions: Along with global warming,
sea level is predicted to rise and major
storms become more frequent.
The conditions: Ground temperatures are
higher and seasonal thawing is more
extensive, melting the permafrost.
The plant community: coastal pine forests The plant community: forbs and lichens of the
tundra and conifers of the boreal forests
Predicted plant response: Predicted plant response:
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado A natural area in your region
The conditions: Warmer temperatures at
higher elevations.
The conditions: What are predicted climate
changes in your region?
The plant community: alpine flower
meadows, shrubs, and trees at lower
The plant community: What plants are typical
of this region?
Predicted plant response: Predicted plant response: Will particular
habitats or plants be threatened?

Why are some plant species more vulnerable to change than others?
How will changing conditions affect our food crops?