Redwoods at Risk

redwood trees

Fig. 1. Healthy redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens). Brian Lockhart, USDA Forest Service,

by Kori Goldberg, Master in Environment and Natural Resources graduate student

Introduction: The recent decision made by the Trump administration to exit the Paris agreement has disappointed many environmentalists though it has reignited a conversation about the threats of climate change and the urgency with which we must respond. With this on my mind, I was curious about the links between plant pathology and climate change and found one particularly interesting example in California.

Background: Some scientists have started to predict the effects that climate change will have in the coming years on plant disease. Predictions include: increased susceptibility of major crops as a result of, droughts, floods, and reduced soil quality, larger geographical distributions of pests and disease, and earlier spread of pests and disease each season as a result of warmer weather (Elad and Pertot, 2014; Pautusso et al., 2012).

California’s northwest coastline is known for the famed redwood trees, sequoia sempervirens, some of the largest and tallest trees in the world reaching up to 378 feet tall (Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, 2017). The trees of the Redwood National and State Parks are considered old-growth, with most trees averaging 500-700 years old and some possibly up to 2,000 years old (National Park Service, 2017).

Redwood Susceptibility: As average global temperatures continues to rise, the risk of severe forest fires also increases by creating favorable conditions for forest fires and extending the forest fire season (Schlossberg, 2016). Redwoods are known to be relatively resilient against forest fires. However, a recent study published in the journal Ecology found that redwoods are four times more likely to die from forest fires if they are infected with sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum) (Dybas, 2013). As this disease spreads through California killing millions of coast live oaks and tanoaks, dead trees left in its wake act as fuel to strengthen and spread wildfires that may otherwise be less severe. Redwoods cannot survive the increased intensity of these fires, especially if they themselves have succumbed to sudden oak death.

Concluding Thoughts: The beauty and diversity of the natural world, both today and in the future depend on the decisions and actions we are making right now. Although the consequences climate change will have on plant health can only be estimated now, research suggests that we should not wait to see the consequences but must start taking aggressive action to mitigate climate change, not reverse the work that has already been done.

For more information on the study, visit:
California’s iconic redwoods in danger from fire and infectious disease (NSF)

Kori Goldberg is a student at The Ohio State University pursuing her Master’s in Environment and Natural Resources. In her free time she loves to be outside, whether climbing, kayaking, or enjoying green spaces in Columbus.

Works Cited (MLA)

Dybas, Cheryl. “California’s iconic redwoods in danger from fire and infectious disease.” National Science Foundation. NSF, 21 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 June 2017.

Elad, Yigal, and Ilaria Pertot. “Climate Change Impact on Plant Pathogens and Plant Diseases.” Journal of Crop Improvement 28.1 (2014): 99-139. Web. 6 June 2017.

Fig. 1. Redwood Trees. 2015. Pixaby, Yosemite National Park.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.

“Giant Redwoods and Sequoias.” Giant Redwood Trees | Giant Redwoods. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.

Pautasso, Marco, Thomas F. Döring, Matteo Garbelotto, Lorenzo Pellis, and Mike J. Jeger. “Impacts of climate change on plant diseases—opinions and trends.” European Journal of Plant Pathology 133.1 (2012): 295-313. Web.

Schlossberg, Tatiana. “Climate Change Blamed for Half of Increased Forest Fire Danger.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 8 June 2017.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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