New Report Assesses Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability in New England and Northern NY

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The U.S. Forest Service recently published a study evaluating the vulnerability of forests across New England and northern New York under a range of future climates

Green limb from a spruce tree

Green limb from a spruce tree

(Public domain.)

New England and northern New York contain about 40 million acres of forest, which provide numerous cultural, economic, and environmental benefits. Climate change is already impacting the region's forests. Over the past century, changes have included rising annual temperatures, increasing annual precipitation, sea-level rise, and shifts in plant and animal phenology. 

The U.S. Forest Service recently published a study evaluating the vulnerability of forests across New England and northern New York under a range of future climates. The report presents an evaluation of the anticipated response of eight forest communities to environmental changes in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level rise. The authors include Northeast CSC researcher Tony D’Amato and USGS Research Ecologist Toni Lyn Morelli, also with the Northeast CSC.

The authors incorporated projections of future climate conditions into three forest impact models, to assess how forests might be impacted by potential future changes. Some of the main findings of this report suggest that:

  1. As soil moisture patterns change, vegetation may experience moisture stress
  2. Northern species (e.g., black spruce and red spruce) could face increasing stress from changing climate
  3. Southern species could benefit from changing climate conditions
  4. Species and forests that can tolerate disturbance (e.g., extreme weather events, floods, pest outbreaks) are at lower risk 
  5. Healthy and diverse forests are generally more resilient to changes in the environment

The report provides a foundation of information that land managers can use to make forest ecosystems more resilient and adaptable to future conditions. These projected changes in climate and the associated impacts and vulnerabilities of forests will have important implications for economically valuable timber species, forest-dependent animals and plants, recreation, and long-term natural resource planning. 

This effort is related to Tony D'Amato's Northeast CSC project “Effects of climate, disturbance, and management on the growth and dynamics of temperate and sub-boreal forest ecosystems within the Lake States and New England,” in which researchers are examining tree-ring patterns and 50 years of Forest Service data to identify which management strategies and forest conditions best support successful adaptation to environmental change. Learn more about this project here.

Explore additional resources about the forest vulnerability assessment here, including a Story Map and a summary version of the report.