This scientist shoots trees to study how they migrate

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In Black Rock Forest, just north of New York City, Angie Patterson points a shotgun at a northern red oak. Patterson is a plant ecophysiologist, and the leaves she shoots from the canopy give her data to understand how and why trees migrate.

Trees have been in motion since the last ice age. As their native habitats become inhospitable, tree ranges are slowly shifting to areas where they can thrive. But climate change is disrupting the process, scientists say. As of 2019, the IUCN Red List categorized over 20,000 tree species as endangered, and more than 1,400 as critically endangered.

As scientists scramble to learn more about the drivers of tree migration, others are planning for the future. To preserve biodiversity, citizens and researchers alike are employing interventionist tactics once steeped in controversy, such as “assisted migration” — taking tree seedlings and planting them in new locations. Rising global temperatures could force wildlife organizations and forest managers to decide what to save and what to leave behind.

The roadside Science video team went into the woods with “the shotgun scientist” to learn how and why trees move to new locations. Can we do something to help the trees? And what tough decisions will we have to make if we can’t? Watch our latest video to see what we discovered.