News Release

Research Team Receives ESA Award for Publication on Trees’ Response to Climate Change

October 28, 2019

Knoxville, TN — Research Team Receives ESA Award for Publication on Trees’ Response to Climate Change Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, Purdue University, and North Carolina State University (NCSU), who collaborated on a study published in Science Advances, are the recipients of the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 2019 W. S. Cooper Award. The ESA awards recognize outstanding contributions to ecology in new discoveries, teaching, sustainability, diversity, and lifelong commitment to the profession.

The W. S. Cooper Award honors the authors of an outstanding publication in the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession, or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients. William S. Cooper was an American ecologist and pioneer with a particular interest in the influence of historical factors – such as climate history – on the pattern of contemporary plant communities across platforms.

“Receiving this award is validation that the forest inventory data collected by the Forest Service can be a powerful tool to help researchers answer big questions,” stated Christopher Oswalt, one of the publication’s co-authors. “It is an honor when work that you were a part of is recognized.”

Understanding how species change their distributions in response to climate change is a fundamental question in ecology. The publication, Divergence of species responses to climate change, is based on 30-years of U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data collected on 86 tree species across the eastern U.S. between 1980 and 2015. After extensively analyzing the data, the researchers found that most trees have been shifting their ranges westward or northward in response to temperature and precipitation changes.

The study, which outlined species-by-species responses to climate change, revealed that precipitation had a more significant impact on biodiversity and the sustainability of ecosystems. Previous studies have generally shown a strong correlation between changes in temperature and tree shifting.

The award recipients and team of researchers includes lead author, Songlin Fei, a researcher with Purdue University’s Climate Change Research Center; co-authors Christopher Oswalt, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service FIA program; Kevin M. Potter, a scientist with NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources; and Johanna Desprez; Insu Jo; and Jonathan Knott, all of Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

The award was presented during the Society’s annual meeting held in Louisville, Kentucky.