Climate Change Could Kill the World's Oldest Trees Tia Ghose, live science


The bristlecone pine is the oldest species of tree on the planet, and it may be facing extinction. The trees thrive in California's White Mountains, and are living records of ancient history. The trees grow at a glacial pace, adding just one inch of girth a year. This slow growth combined with their geographic positioning, away from the competition of other trees or parasites, has allowed the species to live for extended periods of time. Currently, the oldest living bristlecone pine is 5,062 years old.

Global warming has created new climatic conditions for the pines, which they have been forced to adapt to. As global temperatures rise, trees in the White Mountains have started to migrate to higher elevations, which were previously too cold for their survival but now provide ideal temperatures. The bristlecone pines face competition from limber pines which have been able to higher altitudes in greater numbers because of the Clark's nutcracker – a bird that has been dispersing the trees' seeds.


This article is noteworthy because it exposes the potential (and probable) extinction of an underratedly remarkable tree species. The bristlecone pine is a living record of ancient times, and must be preserved. Looking at the tree rings of an aged bristlecone pine can reveal thousands of years of history and an enormous amount about the changes in environmental conditions they've experienced through time.

To ensure the species' survival conservation efforts must be undertaken. Since the bristlecones are not as well adapted to the changing climate conditions as their competition, if no humans intervene to protect the species their extinction will be inevitable. One reliable way to conserve the bristlecones would be to plant the trees seeds in an alternate, cold location where there is less competition. The location must be carefully considered, as introducing an invasive species could cause great harm to the ecosystem. Although because the tree is very slow growing and is a specialist (rather than a generalist) it would be unlikely that it severely damages the ecosystem or lowers its biodiversity. Because of the trees slow growth, it may be difficult for it to survive its early/vulnerable development stages in a new climate, where other organisms may threaten its development.


I chose this article because it introduced me to the bristlecone pine's significance and its unique characteristics that have allowed it to live so long. Its probable extinction shocked me at first, though I should not be too surprised because of how widespread extinctions resulting from anthropogenic destruction currently are. I hope to learn of other ideas for the species' conservation, and also better understand why the limber pines are better suited to global warming conditions. Why don't the birds also carry the bristlecones' seeds to higher altitudes? Why exactly do they prefer the seeds of limber pines, anyway?


Created with images by Rick Goldwasser Photography - "Gnarly" • jphilipg - "Bristlecone pine" • jphilipg - "Bristlecone pine"

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