Rising temperatures are affecting some of Lebanon’s most emblematic trees. The country’s ancient cedars have survived civil war and outlived empires but are now under an insidious threat from climate change, making their future uncertain.
King Solomon used the cedars to build the Temple that would bear his name, the Phoenicians used them for the construction of their merchant fleets and the ancient Egyptians used their resinous oil for embalming. But after centuries of human depredation, the Lebanon cedar trees now appear on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and face their most dangerous threat: the rising temperatures could wipe out most of the country’s cedar forests by the end of the century.
As climate change causes temperatures to increase and winters to be short, the cedar trees’ comfort zone is naturally moving to higher altitudes to reach the cold temperatures they need in order to thrive. However, in the Barouk cedars reserve forest, part of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, situated at about 60 kilometers from Beirut, there isn’t much farther up to go. If the temperatures keep rising, scientists say that the country’s cedar trees will naturally be able to reproduce only at the northern tip of Lebanon.
Damaging insects are expanding their territory
As temperatures increase due to the continued rise of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, certain areas in the north of Lebanon are becoming more inviting to damaging insects.
The Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, one of the densest in Lebanon, has lost over 7% of its trees to insect infestations. “At least one insect has been studied and the results showed that outbreaks of this insect are due to climate change, a low period of snow and low humidity in summer. This insect, the Cephalcia tannourinensis, is a serious cedar tree defoliator“, said Dr. Nabil Nemer, Head of the Agricultural Sciences Department at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.
In the last few years, many reforestation initiatives have been launched, funded by international agencies to save Lebanon’s iconic cedar, which adorns the national flag. A 70% to 90% survival rate of the new plantings are expected.
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