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Assisted Migration: Adapting Forest Management to a Changing Climate

Susan March Leech, Pedro Lara Almuedo, Greg O'Neill


Forestry practitioners are increasingly interested in how to adapt practices to accommodate predicted changes in climate. One forest management option involves helping tree species and seed sources (populations) track the movement of their climates through “assisted migration”: the purposeful movement of species to facilitate or mimic natural population or range expansion. In this paper, we discuss assisted migration as a climate change adaptation strategy within forest management. Substantial evidence suggests that most tree species will not be able to adapt through natural selection or migrate naturally at rates sufficient to keep pace with climate change, leaving forests susceptible to forest health risks and reduced productivity. We argue that assisted migration is a prudent, proactive, inexpensive strategy that exploits finely tuned plant-climate adaptations wrought through millennia of natural selection to help maintain forest resilience, health and productivity in a changing climate. Seed migration distances being considered in operational forestry in British Columbia are much shorter than migration distances being contemplated in many conservation biology efforts and are informed by decades of field provenance testing. Further,only migrations between similar biogeoclimatic units are under discussion. These factors reduce considerably the risk of ecological disturbance associated with assisted migration. To facilitate the discussion of assisted migration, we present three forms of assisted migration, and discuss how assisted migration is being considered internationally, nationally, and provincially. Finally, we summarize policy and research needs and provide links to other resources for further reading.


Adaptation; Assisted migration; Climate change; Conservation; Ecosystem resilience; Forest productivity; Risk assessment.

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