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Modeling Effects of Climate Change on Spruce-Fir Forest Ecosystems and Associated Priority Bird Populations

A Northeast CSC Funding Opportunity 2013 Project
Principal Investigator
Anthony D'Amato


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Spruce-fir forests and associated bird species are recognized as some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and species to the impacts of climate change. This work capitalized on a rich suite of long-term data from these ecosystems to document recent trends in these forests and their associated bird species and developed tools for predicting their future abundance under climate change. Findings from this work indicate declining trends in the abundance of spruce-fir obligate birds, including Bicknell’s Thrush, across the Lake States and New England. In contrast, montane spruce-fir forests in the White and Green Mountains of New England exhibited patterns of increasing abundance, potentially due to their recovery from the negative impacts [...]

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“Red spruce - Credit: Katy Cain, NPS”
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Eastern spruce-fir forest ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to climate change within the conterminous US. The goal of this project was to develop tools to identify refugia sites most likely to support spruce-fir forest and its associated high-priority obligate spruce-fir bird species over the long-term under projected climate change scenarios. Specific research objectives included: (1) producing high-resolution (temporal and spatial) projections of spruce-fir forests, including stand characteristics like structure and composition; (2) estimating future changes in the distribution, productivity, and stand characteristics of the spruce-fir forest type due to potential changes in climate; (3) comparing the distribution and condition of spruce-fir forest for different climate change scenarios to identify areas with key physiographic settings likely to support refugia for this forest type; (4) modeling bird occurrence, distribution, nesting phenology, and productivity as functions of climate and these modeled values for forest structure and composition; (5) linking these bird-habitat models to projected climatic and forest conditions to predict future bird occurrence, distribution, nesting phenology, and productivity across the region; and (6) identifying areas with the greatest richness of priority bird species across climate scenarios. These objectives were accomplished using long-term vegetation, bird, and remote sensing data from spruce-fir forests across the Northeast and Great Lakes regions to predict the future extent and condition of spruce-fir forests and associated avifauna. In particular, the project combined count datasets for 14 spruce-fir forest bird species as well as 25 long-term vegetation datasets and Landsat satellite imagery to develop a series of species distribution models. Models were used for predicting climate impacts on future habitat suitability for spruce-fir species and for evaluating recent dynamics in the location of the montane spruce-fir ecotone. Finally, maps of contemporary forest conditions were developed by combining field observations and Landsat imagery and will be central to future work focused on modeling the distribution of spruce-fir ecosystems and associated bird species under different climate change and management scenarios.

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RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 7e5d37b7-fa9e-4d47-b20c-6bd293aa9f38

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