(CN) – Forest mortality has increased in the wake of ever warmer global temperatures, but research released Monday finds there is a way to recognize when a forest will soon die earlier than current methods, giving forest managers more time to prevent forest deaths.
A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change examined forests’ loss of resilience, the rate of recovery from events such as forest fires or lightning strikes, to determine if the death of a forest was imminent.
Using observation satellites, scientists examined vegetation data of affected forests and how long it took for such vegetation to recover. That information could then be overlaid with ecosystem data, allowing researchers to determine a tipping point when a forest becomes another type of ecosystem such as shrub land.
“These changes can be detected from the analysis of satellite vegetation data over time and may indicate the slow recovery of foliage after a disturbance, which occurs as resilience declines,” the researchers said in a statement.
Forest death is often predicted based upon several other factors, including reduced greenness. The scientists said that this new system could be a more accurate prediction of forest mortality that could identify a changing ecosystem much earlier.
“The authors tested the approach in Californian forests and found that the early warning signal could be detected 6–19 months before forest death,” the statement said.
Predicting forest death earlier could turn around conservation efforts in places like California where devastating wildfires have long impacted forest life. In 2018, the Golden State suffered its deadliest wildfire in history, the Camp Fire, that was responsible for the destruction of almost 240 square miles.
While this new method of determining forest mortality can’t bring back forests already lost, the researchers said it can help save those that still exist and are under threat from rising global temperatures.