Mid-Atlantic Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment

Assessment of forest ecosystem vulnerability for the Mid-Atlantic region

How are forests vulnerable to climate change?

Forests and ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic region will be affected directly and indirectly by a changing climate over the next 100 years. Understanding the potential impacts is an important first step to sustaining healthy forests in the face of changing conditions.

This assessment evaluates the vulnerability of 11 forest ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic region (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, eastern Maryland, and southern New York) under a range of future climates.

This assessment synthesized and summarized information on the contemporary landscape, provided information on past climate trends, and described a range of projected future climates. This information was used to parameterize and run multiple forest impact models, which provided a range of potential tree responses to climate. Results were vetted between two multidisciplinary panels of scientists and land managers familiar with the forests of this region to assess ecosystem vulnerability through a formal consensus-based expert elicitation process.

Major findings

  • Analysis of climate records indicates that average temperatures and total precipitation in the region have increased.
  • Downscaled climate models project potential increases in temperature in every season, but vary in projections for precipitation.
  • The forest impact models project declines in growth and suitable habitat for many mesic species, including American beech, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, red spruce, and sugar maple. Species that tolerate hotter, drier conditions are projected to persist or increase, including black oak, northern red oak, pignut hickory, sweetgum, and white oak.
  • The montane spruce-fir and lowland conifer forest communities were determined to be the most vulnerable ecosystems in the interior portion of the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • Maritime and tidal swamp forest communities were determined to be the most vulnerable ecosystems in the coastal plain portion of the region.
  • The woodland, glade, and barrens forest community was perceived as less vulnerable to projected changes in climate.
  • These projected changes in climate and the associated impacts and vulnerabilities will have important implications for economically valuable timber species, forest-dependent animals and plants, recreation, and long-term natural resource planning.

Download the assessment

Mid-Atlantic forest ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Response Framework project (2018)

More on the assessment

  • Uses new scientific projections of future changes in climate, such as differences in seasonal temperature and precipitation
  • Combines results from a variety of new scientific research that examines how forest ecosystems may respond to changes in climate, disturbance, and management
  • Relies on local expertise from scientists and forest managers to synthesize the results and identify key vulnerabilities within forest ecosystems
  • Describes the implications that future changes will have on a wide variety of ecological, social, and economic factors

Projections for individual tree species (external links)

The region's forests will be affected by a changing climate during this century, but individual tree species will respond uniquely to climate change, depending on their particular silvics and ecological tolerances. These handouts summarize general climate change projections for tree species across several large landscapes based on future projections from the USDA Forest Service Climate Change Tree Atlas and LANDIS models (featured in the vulnerability assessment). The general trends derived from these models can be combined with local knowledge and management experience to judge risk on a particular site.

 

Information provided by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science's Climate Change Response Framework. Learn more about this resource and find more at www.forestadaptation.org