Gray, LK; Gylander, T; Mbogga, MS; Chen, PY; Hamann, A (2011). Assisted migration to address climate change: recommendations for aspen reforestation in western Canada. ECOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS, 21(5), 1591-1603.
Human-aided movement of species populations in large-scale reforestation programs could be a potent and cost-effective climate change adaptation strategy. Such large-scale management interventions, however, tend to entail the risks of unintended consequences, and we propose that three conditions should be met before implementing assisted migration in reforestation programs: (1) evidence of a climate-related adaptational lag, (2) observed biological impacts, and (3) robust model projections to target assisted migration efforts. In a case study of aspen (Populus tremuloides Michaux.) we use reciprocal transplant experiments to study adaptation of tree populations to local environments. Second, we monitor natural aspen populations using the MODIS enhanced vegetation index as a proxy for forest health and productivity. Last, we report results from bioclimate envelope models that predict suitable habitat for locally adapted genotypes under observed and predicted climate change. The combined results support assisted migration prescriptions and indicate that the risk of inaction likely exceeds the risk associated with changing established management practices. However, uncertainty in model projections also implies that we are restricted to a relatively short 20-year planning horizon for prescribing seed movement in reforestation programs. We believe that this study exemplifies a safe and realistic climate change adaptation strategy based on multiple sources of information and some understanding of the uncertainty associated with recommendations for assisted migration. Ad hoc migration prescriptions without a similar level of supporting information should be avoided in reforestation programs.