Oliver Kellhammer work as an artist, activist, and environmentalist has led him down an extraordinary path in life. He has created numerous art instillations with a focus on food justice, communication and botanical intervention. Some instillations he shared with us range from guerilla and sanctioned gardens, reestablishing forested areas after infrastructure developments, growing slime mold to predict the future and working to preserve forested areas.
One topic that Oliver returned to on several occasion was how climate change will affect the future ecology of the world, and how we should be preparing for it. Oliver highlighted some species that were historically present in North America, like the Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). The fossil record for Dawn redwood have been found widely distributed throughout North America and Eurasia from the early Late Cretaceous to the Plio-Pleistocene. The species was thought to be extinct until 1941, when it was found in the Shui-sha-ba Valley of china (Lepage, 2005). Since then it has been successfully replanted in city in North America (e.g. City of Toronto, New York City etc.).
As climate change continues to destabilize climatic patterns it is important that we identify vulnerable species and species that might be able to fill the ecological niches of species lost. The history and range of tolerance of Dawn redwood makes it an interesting tree to consider when thinking about climate change adaptation. The wide distribution in space and in time suggests that the genus probably grew under a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions (Lepage, 2005). Dawn redwood could become an important species for North America as the effects of climate change continue to unfold over the years.
Oliver is not the only one thinking about the problem our current ecosystems are facing. Greg O’Neill, research scientist for the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, is running one site, in the Okanagan, that is involved in the Assisted Migration Adaptation Trail (AMAT) project. The AMAT project is trying to determine the limits of commercially important species by moving them south and subjecting them to warmer weather, and at the same time is working to determine if moving species north will enable them the fare better as the climate evolves (Marris, 2009). The province of BC has also recently adjusted its forestry rules for replanting cut blocks to encourage the movement of species northward or up in elevation, so that they can remain in an environment that most resembles their ‘climate-envelope’ (Marris, 2009). So far these initiatives have only happened with commercial timber, and the project is too young to have strong conclusive results. Trying to integrate a foreign species such as Dawn redwood into BC, despite it potential benefits, would cause uproars within many communities. Even moving native species outside their historic ranges is viewed negatively for fear of aggressive invasion. However, as climate change continues to push our biogeoclimate zones around, isn’t it only logical that we find species that can “invade” these new environments and thrive in them?
Finding ecological solutions to changing climatic conditions is extremely complicated. Oliver offered unique thoughts into the matter, which would likely run against the grain of most conservationists, and similarly, Greg O’Niell faces substantial criticism for his involvement in the AMAT project. As climate change continues to unfold and the effects become more pronounced a variety of solutions will be required to maintain ecological services and functions. My wealth of knowledge is not robust enough to heavily weighing in on the debate for and against the assisted migration of species, but I feel it is important to acknowledge that the idea of ‘novel ecosystems’ may be a very real actuality in the near future. One could argue we are creating ‘novel climates’ and that ‘novel ecosystems’ may be the only way to continually deliver ecosystem services and function even if some ecological mistakes are made along the way.
What do you think? What is the best way to prepare our ecosystems for Climate Change? Is it something that is possible? I’m open to any and all forms of feedback!