Planting to Adapt to Our Changing Climate

These variations are location-specific adaptations. An adaptation is a physical or behavioral adjustment to the plant or animal that affects the way it responds to its environment. The specific colors in a coyote’s pelt would be a physical adaptation, making it easier for the coyote to hide in the area where it lives. Learning to drop nuts or mollusks onto a roadway for cars to run over and crack so that the tasty interior is available to eat is a behavioral adaptation that has been seen in some populations of crows and seagulls. Both physical and behavioral local adaptations are important for the survival of the species in the ecosystem in which they live.

Plants and animals adapt to the ecosystem in which they live. No two habitats are identical, but rather there are local variations within species. In other words, animals and plants of the same species will exhibit localized differences.

Overhead view of a newly planted tree with a plastic white fence/netting around it

Douglas fir trees growing in close proximity to one another in an area where it is very windy, for example, might develop thicker bark than the same trees growing in an area with a lot of open space around them and very little wind. Thicker bark protects the trees from damage when they rub against each other during wind events. The trees with room and little wind, on the other hand, would only need to have bark that was ordinarily thick.

One of the adaptations that plants and animals make is to the climate of their habitat. As that climate changes, the plant or animal needs to adapt. At the Foundation, we’re monitoring the climate changes in our area and factoring that into our restoration and management planning. Because trees pass their adaptations on to their offspring, we have been purchasing trees from seed zones further south (e.g., southern WA). These trees will already be adapted to the increasingly warmer temperatures that we’ve been experiencing and will continue to experience in the future.

Mature trees are repositories of experience and knowledge that they can share with younger generations. The old growth forest on the Rhododendron Preserve has a wealth of information and experience that can be transmitted to younger trees. It’s our hope that between the adaptations of trees from seed zones to the south and the wisdom and experience of our local old growth forest, we are providing the best possible future for the Preserve ecosystem.

– Katha Wilder, Education Committee