We already knew that fauna and flora can evolve to adapt to a changing environment. A study published February 15 in Plos Climate shows that in western North America, mountain plants are growing faster than previously thought at higher, colder altitudes to survive warming global mean temperatures.

“But in some regions, this escalation has not kept pace with rising temperatures.” COMMENT New scientist.

To study this shift in vegetation, the researchers compared satellite images of nine mountain ranges stretching from Mexico to Canada taken between 1984 and 2011. “A huge region of the world”, insists James Kellner of Brown University, the study’s first author.

Measuring the vegetation cover at the height of each growing season showed that plants move to higher altitudes at a rate of 67 meters on average every ten years. “more than four times faster than previously reported” insists scientific weekly. In New Mexico, this speed can reach 112 meters per decade.

Temperature rise as a general factor

This phenomenon can be explained by several factors: changes in rainfall, in agriculture (for example, using productive resources) or livestock grazing, fires, etc. “But, marked New Scientist, according to Kellner, the fact that we find this evolution in different mountain ranges suggests a common factor: rising temperatures. The researcher says:

“It is difficult to explain this evolution, except as a phenomenon that could operate simultaneously in nine mountain ranges between Mexico and Canada.”

Climate change affects the amount of precipitation, as well as the period of precipitation, but not necessarily the same throughout the study area.

For her part, Sabine Rumpf of the University of Basel, Switzerland, who was not involved in the work, considers the period under consideration – almost thirty years – the strength of the study. But she points out “Observations tell us nothing about what happens to individual plant species.” She adds that these results “We should be alert to the fact that some species have begun migrating.”