After 350 Million Piñons Die, Scientists Fear For This Forest’s Future

"Heat, drought, wildfire and insects threaten an iconic pine — and potentially an entire ecosystem — as climate change looms large in the American Southwest".

"Among the rolling mesas north of Taos, New Mexico, a lush piñon pine tree reaches skyward from a rocky slope. John Ubelaker bends to its base and counts the number of branches swirling from the ground to the crown. “Young one,” he says of the tree. “It’s about 20 or so years old. Lucky one, too. It survived the dieback.”

The retired Southern Methodist University biologist hands me a palm-sized cone sticky with sap. His blue eyes are bright and excited. “It takes three years for the piñon to form cones with nuts inside,” he explains. “But the cycle is moisture dependent. It won’t happen without enough water.”

Over the past 10 years, northern New Mexico has seen a decrease in spring moisture, according to Ubelaker. That means less pollen and less fertilization, he says. “We could see a big hit coming to these trees. And that would be a shame. They’re important.”"

Jim O'Donnell reports for Ensia September 26, 2017.

Source: Ensia, 09/28/2017