A new report by U.S. and Canadian scientists analyzes decades of research and concludes that the climate of the Northeast has changed and is likely to change more. The report outlines the effects of climate change on multiple aspects of forests in the northeastern corner of the United States and eastern Canada and concludes with recommendations on adaptive and mitigating strategies for dealing with future effects.
The report, "Changing Climate, Changing Forests: The impacts of climate change on forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada," brings together science on all aspects of forest health, from changes in the water cycle to changes in trees, wildlife and nuisance species. The report focuses on established science and offers recommendations for decision-makers on steps that will make forests more resilient to the effects of climate change.
"Nothing is certain about climate change except that it poses a tremendous challenge to forests," according to Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station. "Forest Service science is developing tools such at this report that will inform decision-making and contribute to making the nation's forests more resilient to changing conditions."
The region covered by the report includes seven states in the United States – Maine, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island – and the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The report stems from the work of Northeast Forests 2100 Initiative, a coalition of 38 U.S. and Canadian scientists. Results of Northeast Forests 2100 research were published in a series of papers in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research in 2009.
As part of the Northeast Forests 2100 project, scientists examined the influence of climate change on the forests of the Northeast using historic records, experimental studies, and computer models, and found linkages between climate and the basic functioning of the region's forests. Scientists concluded that climate change will have profound effects on Northeast forests with the accelerating rate of climate change and the associated stresses that climate change generates.
"The quantity of information available about climate change sometimes makes it hard to find information that is relevant to a particular region," according to Lindsey Rustad, a team leader and research ecologist with the Northern Research Station. "Our intent was to create a credible go-to source of science on the effects of a changing climate on Northeastern forests." The report concludes with recommended adaptive and mitigating measures that could help sustain forest health and make forests more resistant to the effects of a changing climate.
The NE Forests 2100 initiative has been supported by grants from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC) and by organizing efforts of the Northeastern Ecosystem Research Cooperative (NERC). The development of "Changing Climate, Changing Forests" was supported by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.
Reference: Changing climate, changing forests: The impacts of climate change on forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Rustad, Lindsey; Campbell, John; Dukes, Jeffrey S.; Huntington, Thomas; Fallon Lambert, Kathy; Mohan, Jacqueline; Rodenhouse, Nicholas. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-99. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 48 p. 2012
- Download The Report - Changing climate, changing forests - The impacts of climate change on forests of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada
Abstract: Decades of study on climatic change and its direct and indirect effects on forest ecosystems provide important insights for forest science, management, and policy. A synthesis of recent research from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada shows that the climate of the region has become warmer and wetter over the past 100 years and that there are more extreme precipitation events. Greater change is projected in the future. The amount of projected future change depends on the emissions scenarios used. Tree species composition of northeast forests has shifted slowly in response to climate for thousands of years. However, current human-accelerated climate change is much more rapid and it is unclear how forests will respond to large changes in suitable habitat. Projections indicate significant declines in suitable habitat for spruce-fir forests and expansion of suitable habitat for oak-dominated forests. Productivity gains that might result from extended growing seasons and carbon dioxide and nitrogen fertilization may be offset by productivity losses associated with the disruption of species assemblages and concurrent stresses associated with potential increases in atmospheric deposition of pollutants, forest fragmentation, and nuisance species. Investigations of links to water and nutrient cycling suggest that changes in evapotranspiration, soil respiration, and mineralization rates could result in significant alterations of key ecosystem processes. Climate change affects the distribution and abundance of many wildlife species in the region through changes in habitat, food availability, thermal tolerances, species interactions such as competition, and susceptibility to parasites and disease. Birds are the most studied northeastern taxa. Twenty-seven of the 38 bird species for which we have adequate long-term records have expanded their ranges predominantly in a northward direction. There is some evidence to suggest that novel species, including pests and pathogens, may be more adept at adjusting to changing climatic conditions, enhancing their competitive ability relative to native species. With the accumulating evidence of climate change and its potential effects, forest stewardship efforts would benefit from integrating climate mitigation and adaptation options in conservation and management plans.