Climate Change Dilemma: Rescuing Nature Through “Assisted Migration” vs Invasive Ecosystem Disruption

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Scientists trying to help species migrate North far outside their natural range, to help the species survive global warming, are encountering objections from people who think it is wrong to disrupt ecosystems by introducing new species. But supporters of the scheme are worried the climate is changing too fast for nature to keep up.

‘Playing the hand of God’: scientists’ experiment aims to help trees survive climate change

Scientists use a strategy called assisted migration in an attempt to rescue tree species from inhospitable conditions

Ashley Stimpson
Published onWed 8 Jul 2020 20.00 AEST

Since 2013, TNC has planted more than 2,000 longleaf pine seedlings in fields not far from the Delaware state line. Today, clumps of longleaf stand together like gangly kids at recess, their eponymous green needles shooting out like pompoms in every direction.

But longleaf is not native to Maryland, and many scientists believe they should not be planted at Plum Creek, or anywhere outside of their natural range. These relatively young trees are part of an experiment to determine if human intervention could help the pines migrate north as climate change alters its natural range.

Not everyone’s onboard. Assisted migration has been accused of being expensive and risky, a case of humans playing God.

But “I do not believe longleaf pine could move quickly enough at the rate the climate is changing,” explains Dr Deborah Landau, a TNC restoration ecologist.

Landau says that, on Facebook, TNC’s longleaf project has been accused of “playing the hand of God”. She dismisses the criticism. “There’s so little nature left that we haven’t already had a heavy hand in,” she says.

Despite the detractors, Landau has seen a shift in attitudes about assisted migration in the decade since Ricciardi and Simberloff’s article was published.

“Now that climate change is here, people are more open to the prospect of aiding species that won’t be able to keep up,” she says. “It’s happened. It’s happening. We need to respond.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/08/planting-trees-assisted-migration-climate-change

The suggestion nature cannot keep up with climate change is not supported by historical evidence.

The Younger Dryas was an abrupt multi-degree Northern Hemisphere return to ice age conditions which occurred 12,800 years ago and lasted around 1,300 years. The initial cooling may have occurred in as short timeframe as a few months, certainly no more than a handful of years – orders of magnitude faster than today’s global warming.

Until now, it was thought that the mini ice age took a decade or so to take hold, on the evidence provided by Greenland ice cores. Not so, say William Patterson of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, and his colleagues. 

The group studied a mud core from an ancient lake, Lough Monreagh, in western Ireland. Using a scalpel they sliced off layers 0.5 to 1 millimetre thick, each representing up to three months of time. No other measurements from the period have approached this level of detail. 

Carbon isotopes in each slice revealed how productive the lake was and oxygen isotopes gave a picture of temperature and rainfall. They show that at the start of the Big Freeze, temperatures plummeted and lake productivity stopped within months, or a year at most. “It would be like taking Ireland today and moving it up to Svalbard” in the Arctic, says Patterson, who presented the findings at the BOREAS conference in Rovaniemi, Finland, on 31 October. 

Read more: https://www.sott.net/article/196671-Mini-Ice-Age-Took-Hold-Of-Europe-In-Just-Months

The multi-degree return to warm conditions which followed the Younger Dryas was also extremely rapid (see the graph at the top of this page).

My point is, most Northern Hemisphere species alive today survived past abrupt climate shifts both up and down, of far greater magnitude and pace than today’s gentle global warming. The abrupt Younger Dryas climate shift was disruptive, but it was not a significant extinction event. Nature is resilient, it does not need our help.

Update (EW): Link to William Patterson’s study into the abrupt Younger Dryas Freeze. Two citations are available which confirm the 3 month claim.

79 thoughts on “Climate Change Dilemma: Rescuing Nature Through “Assisted Migration” vs Invasive Ecosystem Disruption

  1. “orders of magnitude faster than today’s global warming”
    This goes on endlessly. The top graph is not showing, as marked, “present global warming”. It is showing GISP-2 data, and the last data point is 1855.

    • Fair point Nick so, if that ice core measurement was in “real time” to coin a phrase, what would be today’s measurement for that location please? In other words, please extrapolate that graph to show exactly where we are today. I look forward to seeing the shape of the graph.

      • No, the graph stops in the mid 19c, but doesn’t make that clear. So it gives the misleading impression that current temps are below RWP and MWP.

        In fact they are probably about the same.

        Its an unfortunate use to have made of that particular series.

        • Yes the graph stops at 1855. The IPCC says 1850-1880 is pre-industrial. So therefore pre-industrial. The temperature is as stated up to 2.5C above pre-industrial.

          • Back to a time when cold weather often devastated crops, which were of low yield anyway because of lack of fertilizers, pesticides and poor efficiency of animal driven labor. Back to a time when it took about 6 months to get from New York to San Francisco.

        • I would say that individual locations would very rarely, if ever, match some hypothetical “global average”. P)

        • ” They show that at the start of the Big Freeze, temperatures plummeted and lake productivity stopped within months, or a year at most. ”

          Schist happens. So what? The world has dealt with this forever without us and we are suddenly the saviors of nature? HUBRIS^2

    • “orders of magnitude faster than today’s global warming” is not based on the graph, this claim is based on William Patterson’s claim based on his high resolution sediment study that the big freeze struck in as little as 3 months. Professor Patterson is listed as Director of the Saskatchewan Isotope Laboratory.

      A multi-degree sustained drop in temperature which occurred over a time span of 3 months is “orders of magnitude” faster than any climate shift we are experiencing today.

      • might have been faster
        otherwise how did mammoths die eating daisies?
        and get snap frozen..

        • Well technically, blue bells and buttercups aren’t daisies (are they?)

          But get with the program, Ozzie. The mammoths were transported to save them from climate change. They’re supposed to be snap frozen at -155 Fahrenthingies while grazing on temperate grasslands, otherwise the flowers would show signs of digestion.

          Take care, most people here can handle only one false science at a time.

    • But if temperature has risen a degree C or so since 1855 as many claim, then to correct the graph, extend the green line up 1C. It’s still less than the Roman and Medieval warm periods. What is your point?

      • He’s doing what he always does. Stir up as much mud as possible in order to distract everyone.

    • Even the IPCC doesn’t claim more than 0.7 to 1.0C warming since 1855. Each tick mark on the vertical axis is 5 degrees. (It doesn’t specify F or C.)

      • “Even the IPCC doesn’t claim more than 0.7 to 1.0C warming since 1855.”
        … for the global average (including oceans). For the whole Arctic (including oceans), the IPCC says that it is twice that. And a high land single location will be far more variable again.

  2. In some aspects this is like the, “Is it weather? Or is it climate?” debate. When does weather become climate change? Paleo-weather anyone?
    What was the temperature on Loch Something-or-other on July 12, 1465 AD, and was it a good day for picnic? Who cares?

    When you slice-off chunks that represent 3-month intervals in a paleo record and say this or that happened, its past weather events. A big freeze (early fall frosts, a cool summer)) from a huge volcano event somewhere distant on the planet, we know those are usually just one-off events that last only a year or two in effect.
    And a drought that lasts just several years is weather. But a millennial-long drought that turns the verdant grass lands of the Sahara into a vast desert, that’s undeniably climate change.

    Somewhere there is an “in-between.”

    • “Is it weather? Or is it climate?”

      It’s really quite simple. If the temperature goes up, it’s climate change. If the temperature goes down, it’s weather.

  3. From observation, Nature adapts more rapidly than we scientists can figure out the complexity of the systems to which Nature responds. A farmer digs a stock pond in the midwest; the following year it is host to several species of fish and amphibians. When James Bond first observed the cattle egrets they were confined to the Caribbean. Forty years later they had spread all the way to Oregon, in response to environmental factors not all of which we know of or can measure. Canada Geese were nearly extinct in 1962. Between then and now they changed their migration habits and are numerous enough to be considered a nuisance, knocking planes out of the air into the Hudson River and such. There is not need to pretend we know enough about specific plants or animals that we can predict how they might be harmed by an imagined rise in temperature, and then start moving plants around on the planet to “protect” them. Look at the kudzu in Georgia or the cane toads in Oz.

  4. Why does every specie have an inalienable right to survive ad infinitum? Extinction happened before we showed up. That’s life. Or death, as the case might be. In the tooth and claw survival of the fittest scenario those that can’t adapt don’t deserve a place at the table. Let them pass on and make room for something better suited. Sayonara baby, and nice try, but you don’t have what it takes.

    • Exactly. Its the same with jobs. If the Left had been active 120 years ago we would all still be shoeing subsidised horses instead of paying through the nose for subsidised windmills.

      White men were not responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs

  5. I fully support assisted migration of Climate Worriers to Antarctica. Let the penguins suffer.

  6. “Now that climate change is here”

    Wow. A scientist actually said that. What a clueless twit.

    • Not really. It’s perfectly true that “climate change is here”; it always is! It always has been, and will be.

  7. In this paper by Esper and Schweinburger 2004, the ebb and flow of the tree-line is the vast Siberian Taiga forest showed northward advances of the treeline during exactly the periods where the most rapid recent climate warming occurred: the 1940s and 50s, and then the 1970s.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228991744_Large-scale_treeline_changes_recorded_in_Siberia

    But careful investigation of these 20th century tree-line advances revealed something important. Stumps of ancient trees coexisted with the regions of Arctic tundra which the recently advancing treeline had re-occupied. These ancient stumps were about a thousand years old. Their presence showed that this was not the first time that the Taiga had spread this far north. It had been there before, during the climatically hotter “Medieval Warm Period” (MWP) a thousand years ago. The treeline had since then retreated south during the colder centuries of the intervening “Little Ice Age” (LIA). With the natural warming rebound from the LIA, the Taiga treeline is just returning to the northward extent that it had previously occupied during the MWP a millennium ago.

    https://ptolemy2.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/the-to-and-fro-of-the-siberian-taiga-tundra-treeline/

  8. People in science might believe in evolution, but that doesn’t mean they understand it.

    Evolution is not always a million years of gradual change. Abrupt change gives opportunity to local organisms that were crowded into a corner of the environment, shoved there by competition. They quietly or not so quietly do their thing along with all the other organisms. But then something suddenly changes. Conditions are no longer what they were. The old fittest may not be the new fittest.

    With abrupt change comes opportunity for the new to occupy open niches without strong competition. A diversity of forms may proliferate in the wide open conditions. Then later, the competition begins, and the ones less able are weeded out.

    It’s not important to “help” nature stay the same. It’s important to let nature do what nature does. One local species of tree could turn into three new species. If you bring in a more suitable competitor for a new niche, there will be no chance for anything new to evolve. If it took thousands of years for trees to migrate hundreds of miles, then at least the new local guys would occupy the territory first, and maybe have a chance against the carpetbaggers.

    It may simply be the enviros want to plant southern trees farther north so later they can point those trees as evidence of warming. Though the immigrant trees may be barely clinging to life in the north, the claim can be made.

    We are headed for cold, so enjoy the good times. And as the tired old saying goes, “In the long run, we are all dead”. Wasn’t that cheery? Just let nature do its thing.

    • Spot on.

      Evolution is driven by climate and other material changes in the real world not time driven Island breaks away from conitnent – fundamental change to ecosystem on island. Island sinks, even more fundamental:- birds, bees and bears gone, sharks, stingrays and seaweed move in. If the climate changes then things evolve, that is about as normal and as natural as it gets. I don’t think nature gives a rats if change comes from us or a volcano spewing out whatever.

      It a scientist’s job to study and explain how things work not to trail their coat for funding to make it their own property and then make it a museum in their honour.

  9. The people who think it is wrong to disrupt ecosystems by introducing new species can find some good justification by looking at the effects of introduced species in Australia during history.
    The many ecological disasters include the importing of red foxes, dingoes, feral dogs and hybrids, rabbits, camels, rats, feral pigs, European honey bees, cane toads, and feral cats. The disastrous results of these introductions are well documented. These days Australian Customs actively prevent the introduction of further dangerous organisms.
    It is best to leave Nature in charge of species migration and avoid all blame.

    • Exactly. Add mice, rats, cockroaches, lantana, blackberries, sparrows, starlings, Indian mynahs and prickly pear, European wasps ……..

      What could possibly go wrong?

      • Spruces in Germany, now drying out, “climate change” and their draughts, are originally trees growing in the higher Alps, but once around end of 19th century, they used these spruces for reforestation all over Germany, now they wonder they have trouble.

  10. “I do not believe longleaf pine could move quickly enough at the rate the climate is changing,”

    My bold: Sure indicates uncertainty.

    We the people have not always been considered when “moving” plants and animals around. A good example is the human caused invasion of plants and animals to Australia.

    • Most plants have ranges that spread over 100’s of miles, at a minimum.
      Even if climate does change faster than plants can migrate poleward, so what.
      As long as the warmer edge of the range doesn’t catch up with the colder edge of the range, there is no problem.

    • California has more than a few such problems of its own, as do many other places around the globe, due to deliberate or unintended introduction of new species into areas to which they might never made it on their own . For good or for bad, people ARE significant transporters of intrusive species.

    • I think we’ve done our fair share of distributing eucalyptus tress around the globe Carl, you have to share the love.

  11. Here in Switzerland they mow down forests and replant the land with “higher temperature tolerant” trees in view of “future climate change”. The community can then claim CO2 compensation certificates… As for the trees: the saplings are just left to themselves in the hot sun (there’s no shade at all), and without care most of them die/dry out. The next year, they replant them again and so on and so on. Of course everything is done with taxpayer’s money… The main migration is of financial nature from wallet to wallet…

    • That’s hilarious, sounds like what happened when Chairman Mao demanded more steel production. People started destroying useful objects, melting down any steel they could find in backyard furnaces to meet the absurd quotas.

      If you have a link to a newspaper article describing this absurdity please post it.

      • Right on- here in Massachusetts, state forestry policies are written with zero imput from licensed foresters. Here, extremist forestry haters dominate forestry policies. I could write a book larger than anything written by James Michener on the subject and I probably will- after 47 years of practicing forestry here. Here, all environmental policies are in the control of climate catastophists.

  12. There was a big meteor on Greenland about 12500 years ago. I just speculate about the big freeze. The sea level is meter down from the last beetween ice age.
    In Norwegian.
    Det var et stort meteornedslag på Grønland for ca 12500 år siden . Kan man spekulerer i om det forårsaket den hurtige nedkjøling. Havnivået er meter ned fra forrige mellomistid.

  13. It just shows what ignorant and incompetent fools these ‘ecologists’ are. Not only are they clueless about the adaptability of nature, they also have the arrogance of claiming to know what is best.

    The is only rule as ecosystems: leave it alone.

  14. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a group with an interesting mix of members, appears to me to run the gamut from delusional loonies to dedicated socialists. One of their specific project sponsors is the China Global Conservation Fund, which steps in to advance specific local projects. Chinese funding of environmental loonies undertaking local projects of no obvious value? These sorts of groups seem to be popping up more frequently, and their funding leads back to several sources, none of which support capitalism.

    • That may be some explanation for NC moving into the ocean. The current fad is “ecosystem based management” contrary to the original ethic practiced by fisheries and wildlife management for species, which of course require habitat. Sounds good until you find out how complicated it is and maybe all species can be at their maximum potential populations at the same time. This came out barely referencing what was discovered half century ago studying really polluted estuaries. “Living shorelines” is part of this new ethic, almost as if they can be static while alive.

      Elliott, M. and V. Quintino. 2007. The estuarine quality paradox, environmental homeostasis and the difficulty of detecting anthropogenic stress in naturally stressed areas. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 54:640-645.
      Copeland, B. J. 1970. Estuarine classification and responses to disturbances. Transactions American Fisheries Society. Special Session. 99:826-835.

  15. “It would be like taking Ireland today and moving it up to Svalbard”

    Well, THAT ought to have gotten rid of any snakes in Ireland. Is it the intention of these folks to introduce breeding populations of Bushmasters, Spitting Cobras and/or Rattlers to the Emerald Isle?

  16. Would anyone expect a person with a PhD in “Restoration Ecology” to ever determine that restoration was not necessary?

  17. They (University of Maine) tried to re-introduce Caribou into Maine. It was a total failure.

    In Asteroideology news…

    Asteroid 2018SV13

    ESA has put this on the Impactor List. Due in on Sept. 22.

    Its 133 feet dia is similar to the Tunguska object. Needs to be very carefully watched. Poss impact or air explosion. Hopefully a very very close miss. No joke.

    https://newton.spacedys.com/neodys/index.php?pc=1.1.2&n=2018SV13

    http://neo.ssa.esa.int/web/guest/orbit-visualizer/-/ovt/orbit?p_p_lifecycle=1&p_p_state=pop_up&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_designation=2018SV13&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_name=2018SV13&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_javax.portlet.action=orbit

  18. They tried to re-introduce Caribou into Maine. It was a total failure.

    https://apnews.com/427d074bd86ce430a8d6e343dc38cb6a

    Expect the same…

    In Asteroideology news…

    Asteroid 2018SV13

    ESA has put this on the Impactor List. Due in on Sept. 22.

    Its 133 feet dia is similar to the Tunguska object. Needs to be very carefully watched. Poss impact or air explosion. Hopefully a very very close miss. No joke.

    https://newton.spacedys.com/neodys/index.php?pc=1.1.2&n=2018SV13

    http://neo.ssa.esa.int/web/guest/orbit-visualizer/-/ovt/orbit?p_p_lifecycle=1&p_p_state=pop_up&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_designation=2018SV13&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_name=2018SV13&_OrbitVisualizationTool_WAR_OrbitVisualizationToolportlet_javax.portlet.action=orbit

    • They’ll have good data on this flyby to better calculate its orbit.

      The IB Times embellished their story a bit too much.

  19. There is a place called lost maples in texas , yup there are maples there 1000 miles south of their natural range

  20. “Now that climate change is here“
    -> Just erased the entire natural climate history of Earth.
    When climate changes abruptly species may be lost indeed – it’s call natural selection and evolution. It is not worth wasting any limited taxpayer resources trying to stop it just because of a religious belief that humans are now omnipotent and in control of the climate.

  21. From the article: “But “I do not believe longleaf pine could move quickly enough at the rate the climate is changing,” explains Dr Deborah Landau, a TNC restoration ecologist.”

    What is the rate at which the climate is changing? I don’t believe this has ever been quantified. I think this doctor is blowing smoke when she says she can see the “rate of change”.

    Assuming way too much, is what she is doing. Typical for an alarmist climate scientist. If they didn’t have assumptions, they wouldn’t have anything at all.

    Modern-day alarmist climate science is based on unsubstantiated speculation, and assumptions made on that unsubstantiated speculation.

    There is no evidence that Human-caused climate change is real, yet the doctor says she can see it. The doctor is delusional.

    • What other position would you expect a “restoration ecologist” to take? It is their self imposed purpose for living.

    • And longleaf pine is native to the US southeast, where temps are hardly changing, even slightly cooling in spots.

  22. Because the recent 1 to 1.4 C per century of warming—longer than the lifespan of multiple generations of most animals—is apparently too fast for animals to migrate or adapt. According to “experts”.

  23. The graph is in °C.
    If it was in °F, it would go from -60°F to -20°F, I have identical graphs expressed in °F from -60 to -20.

  24. What is so special about the ‘Long Leaf Pine’ that it needs to be preserved by relocation? Surely Strip Cone Pines, so beloved by a ‘climate scientist’ at Penn University, are more worthy of preservation?
    Tony Windsor

  25. I think the motivation in this particular report is misplaced, and also perhaps the fears about what the new trees might change. Consider what has been accomplished in the state of Israel and on the Loess Plateau, currently, to somewhat lesser respects, in ongoing projects in the Sahel, in Caledonia, in Eritrea, in parts of Australia and Texas, in other parts of the Mid-East and Africa, and many other places around the globe.

    Often the surface land is first modified to reduce erosion and runoff, restoring ground water and aquifers. Trees are generally planted first but other vegetation can also be helpful in the early stages. I may be wrong but my impression is that in most cases the choices are made in favor of whatever trees, from wherever in the world, that are likely to do well and further the project. Eventually fruit trees and useful lumber, or crops, become dominate. Where veration thrives, so do animals. Only a climate alarmists or the nothing good comes from humans crowd could see anything wrong in the results.

    A few of many many examples:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QUSIJ80n50

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAGHUkby2Is

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aZ8E7hj8VU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P1rPnVUME4

    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=greening+of+Isreal

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4OBcRHX1Bc

  26. Well, how fast can a tree walk is a serious question. According to the noted historian W. Shakespeare Burnham Woods once went to Dunsinane though I do not recall him specifying the speed, assuming a normal walking pace for humans or the difference would have been noted?

  27. Blackberry, it is said of this pest, was introduced to Australia by a feted medical scientist and active botanist, Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, who was head of the Royal Botanic Garden, Melbourne 1857-73.
    Today, we imagine scientists to have such good understanding of all things important that this mistake could not be made again. So, read the paper on assisted migration with that in mind. Scientists make mistakes.
    Scientists told us earlier this year that Covid-19 was not transmitted through the air. That seems to have been a misake.
    Covid-19 has migrated from China to Australia despite the efforts of scientists to stop it by unassisted migration. Scientists can fail in important tasks.
    There have been papers claiming that many science papers have results than cannot be replicated. Scientists can fool themselves.
    The usual role of the scientist in society has been perverted by third-rate motor mouths who seek added importance for their utterances by claiming scientific support.
    Sheesh. Most scientists are normal people who chose a vocation. Don’t let the present crop of scientists imagine that they have special powers or insights. Don’t encourage the public to think they do. And yes, do try to stop scientists proposing that they understand Nature so well that they are qualified to tinker with it. Geoff S

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