Eastern Forest Vulnerability

Forest Vulnerability Assessment Information Available for 121 Parks
Eastern forests experienced tremendous changes in recent decades and centuries due to direct and indirect human influences. The coming decades will likely bring continued changes due to multiple global change factors including climate change and nonnative species. Recent research investigated potential forest change in response to climate, differences in projections of change among climate scenarios (uncertainty), and levels of nonnative biotic stressors (tree pests and invasive plants) at 121 parks in the eastern U.S.
Map showing potential forest change
Figure 1. Potential forest change: average percentage of modeled tree species with a projected large change in potential habitat suitability by 2100 (i.e., >50% decrease or >100% increase)
Project summary [700 KB PDF]
Journal article [1.3 MB PDF]

Study Highlights:
Climate change across parks by 2100:
  • annual temperature increase of 3-6°C (5.4-10.8°F)
  • annual precipitation change of -27% to +75%
Forest change across parks by 2100 (Fig. 1):
  • 22-77% of tree species in large change class (>50% decrease or >100% increase)
Nonnative species currently present in and around parks:
  • 15-70 tree pest species per park (Fig. 2)
  • <10-50% nonnative species on park plant lists
Forest change map of invasive species
Figure 2. Total number of nonnative tree pest species with infestation zones intersecting park boundaries.
Potential forest change, uncertainty, and nonnative pests and plants are positively correlated in eastern parks, illustrating the broad scope of future changes and potential compounding effects in many forests. Adaptation to ongoing climate change requires revising existing strategies to meet traditional goals and will increasingly require revising goals and developing novel strategies as conditions shift beyond the range of variability experienced in the past. Managers can incorporate this vulnerability information into adaptation strategies within routine management actions such as fire and nonnative plant management. This project is part of ongoing work of the NPS Climate Change Response Program to support park adaptation to changing conditions.

Last updated: June 2, 2015

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