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May 07, 2012, 10.54 AM IST | Source: Reuters

More grasslands, less tundra in Alaska's future - report

USA-CLIMATE-ALASKA:More grasslands, less tundra in Alaska's future - report

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Long-term climate shifts will mean the spread of prairie-like grasslands and the displacement of much of the tundra habitat in Alaska and neighboring parts of Canada, according to a report released this week by the University of Alaska.

The report predicts climate shifts through the end of the century in Alaska and Canada's Yukon and Northwestern Territories.

The two-year Alaska, Yukon and Northwestern Territories Climate-Biome Shift Projects, conducted by the university in collaboration with government agencies and nonprofit groups from the United States and Canada, maps out expected changes for the 18 identified sub-climates in the study area, ranging from sparsely vegetated northern Arctic tundra to rainforest and grasslands.

Some changes are expected to be drastic, the report said.

While climates have evolved in the past, the predicted transformations will be "a lot more rapid than historical changes in climate," said Nancy Fresco, a University of Alaska Fairbanks research professor and project manager for the Alaska and Canadian studies.

"The climates will no longer match with the systems that are currently there," Fresco said Friday. "That will probably cause stress to wildlife, stress to vegetation and possibly some entire shifts in biomes."

The most sweeping transformations are expected in the northernmost Arctic areas, such as Alaska's North Slope, and in the deep interior regions of Alaska and the Canadian territories, the report said.

Fresco said some species indigenous to the region might adapt, while others will be hard hit. "Some species can move. Others, such as trees, cannot," she said.

"Most likely, some invasive species and new species will thrive in areas where they haven't been seen before," she said.

The most resilient areas are likely to be the coastal rainforest of southeastern Alaska, according to the report. Such rainforests might expand further north, Fresco said.

The expected climate shifts may not be bad news for everyone, she said.

"Good or bad really depends on your perspective," she said. "If someone wants to grow apple trees in Fairbanks, then it might be a really good thing."

(Editing by Edith Honan; Desking by Stacey Joyce)

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