Climate Change to have major effects on Prairies

Saskatoon – Scientists from around the world are predicting that global warming will cause major environmental changes over the coming century. In honour of Earth Day on April 22, the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is educating the public on what this will mean for the Prairie provinces.

SRC Principal Scientist Dr. Jeff Thorpe recently published The Vulnerability of Prairie Grasslands to Climate Change, a study which predicts that much of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will see major shifts northward of plant and animal species over the next 100 years.

Dr. Thorpe’s findings are consistent with those of a NASA-funded study on ecological sensitivity to climate change, released earlier this year. This study found that the Prairies are more vulnerable to climate change than other areas of Canada because of the transition zone where grassland meets boreal forest.

According to Dr. Thorpe’s study, the southern edge of the forest will be replaced by aspen parkland and grassland, with current Canadian grassland types replaced by those found in the US Great Plains–essentially changing current land uses in the Prairies. This will mean the Prairies will see fewer trees, shorter grasses, and gradual arrival of new kinds of plants and animals from the south. Invasive weeds, which are already a big problem in our grasslands, are expected to benefit from climate change. In addition, the thousands of small wetlands which make the Prairies the “duck factory of North America” will dry up more frequently in the warmer, drier climate.

Funding for this research was provided by Natural Resources Canada under the Prairies Regional Adaptation Collaborative, by the Government of Manitoba’s Agricultural Sustainability Initiative and by SRC.

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