There is the climate and then there is the microclimate; the link between the two is not always obvious

If you have a garden of any size, you know the concept of a “microclimate,” mainly because it’s a great scapegoat.

Did the sugar snaps look ugly? The garden is in a low place where the cold accumulates.

Withered lettuce? The storm knocked down a nearby tree and now it’s too sunny.

Your neighbor’s harvest is twice as good? Of course they do, they have a southern exposure (or a northern exposure, or something like that).

But there is a more serious side to the microclimate and it is the subject of a comprehensive new program to help guide conservation efforts as the climate changes.

“Working for decades on this question of how to identify the most climate-resilient lands, we’ve looked at a bunch of different evidence. The one that really took hold was this idea of ​​a microclimate, ”said Mark Anderson, scientific director of the Eastern United States for The Nature Conservancy.

You and I, who can get around quite easily, think of “climate” in big, fast-paced patterns. The climate in Concord is different from Portsmouth and Gorham but it’s the same as Bow or Canterbury, right? This is not true, at least not for much of the ecosystem.

“Species know the climate very locally, especially plants,” Anderson said. “What they’re aware of is the range of microclimates around them – that’s the ‘climate’ for them. “

As an example, he noted how New England’s small rattlesnake population still nestles on the south-facing hills, in order to maximize heat. If you book a property to protect rattlesnakes but only include the hills facing north, your effort will likely fail even if your borders are only a few hundred feet apart. Bad microclimate.

That’s all well and good, but if you’re a landowner or a nonprofit environmental or conservation commission who wants to make the right choices to preserve land from development, how are you supposed to know which microclimate is which? This is where the new data tool developed by Nature Conservancy and Native Plant Trust, based in Massachusetts, comes in.

Years of field analysis aided by advancements in GIS technology have enabled the groups to create an online map of the Northeast that analyzes the region in stunning detail. It demarcates 234 Important Plant Areas (API acronyms, which might confuse microbrewery fans) that have an “exceptionally high rare plant diversity” and then examines whether they are protected, protected from conversion but open for exploitation. forest, threatened by development and, perhaps most interestingly, ‘climate resilient’ because they contain multiple connected microclimates that create options for species.

This is important because today’s climate won’t be tomorrow’s – and who knows what your grandchildren’s climate will be like. One of the things we need to consider is which parts of New Hampshire are not only the most ecologically valuable now, but the most likely to be as the world continues to get warmer, sometimes wetter and sometimes more. dry, often wilder and much less predictable.

“This tool is already being used by land trusts to find more resilient areas,” Anderson said. A second benefit is that it could help disparate groups use the same metrics when making difficult choices. “We hope that by providing this information, decisions will start to align with each other, even if we make them independently.”

To view the report, visit www.nativeplanttrust.org/plant-diversity-report/. The online mapping tool can be found at maps.tnc.org/resilientland/.

The report and the online tool rolled out last week with a high-profile online conference, after which I spoke to Anderson, who has been involved in conservation for at least two decades.

“We’ve done a lot of things in terms of conservation, but I think most of what we’ve done has been the fruit at hand – the Nordic thing at high altitude,” he said. “Now it is clear that we have to do a lot more and we have to do this new work in the low lying areas, the rich soils, the fragmented landscapes where there are a lot of people. It will be much more difficult.

“On the bright side, we know a lot better what we’re doing, and there is bipartisan support for conservation. And we have much better science, ”he said.

What we don’t have much left – not that we’ve ever really done, although we don’t realize it – is time. The staggering heat wave in the Pacific Northwest right now is another sign that 150 years of the industrial revolution altered the entire global climate in such an extreme way that the sci-fi writers of my childhood wouldn’t didn’t dare mention it because the editors would poop. poop them.

We must stop pouring gasoline on the fire immediately because of the changes in the economy and in our lives, even if it will be costly, difficult, unpleasant and uncomfortable, and we must prepare society for the future life on a planet that is going to be more and more different from what it used to be.

In the meantime, I’m going to go water my sweet cookies. It’s embarrassing to have to keep buying them from a farm stand.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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