by Erica Sloniker, Visual Content Specialist
If you take a trip to your local plant nursery this spring the first thing you might ask is, will this grow here? Many gardeners are familiar with the United States Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness zones, which are based of your region’s lowest extreme temperatures. Knowing your “zone” will help you understand which plants will thrive in your area.
Foresters are like home gardeners who care for and nurture their plants. They routinely ask, will trees grow and thrive here? As the climate changes, that question becomes essential to understanding the future health of a forest and its ability to adapt.
At The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Ellsworth Creek Preserve in southwest Washington scientists are experimenting with planting tree seedlings from different seed zones, an area within which a plant can be transferred with little risk of being poorly adapted to their new location, to see how seeds will respond to climate change. This research is being conducted by TNC scientists and conservation staff and collaborators at the University of Washington (UW).
According to TNC Forest Ecologist Dr. Michael Case, “we planted about 3,000 Douglas-fir and western hemlock seedlings in 2021.” He went on to say, “Although the trees that we planted are the same species as to what naturally occurs, we chose seedlings from drier seed zones in response to future climate change projections. We also planted tree seedlings from the local seed zone to evaluate how each will perform over the next few decades.”
What decisions ultimately go into deciding which tree seedlings are chosen for planting?
“We consulted a number of experts, applied multiple planning tools, such as the United States Forest Service Seedlot Selection Tool, and worked with local nurseries to evaluate appropriate tree seedlings for planting,” says Dr. Michael Case.
As tree seedlings are planted, TNC and UW are monitoring seedling growth and mortality along with local climate to evaluate climate resilience in the face of a changing climate.
This cutting-edge research will inform future forest management and climate-smart restoration efforts through the Coast Range of the Pacific Northwest.