The northeastern U.S. is highly exposed to climate change; in fact, the rate of change is higher than most places on earth (Karmalkar and Bradley 2017). The forests of the Northeast CASC region, and the wildlife that inhabit them, are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In particular, the boreal forests, a biome that reaches from Alaska to the Northeast, and the northern hardwoods, including sugar maple and paper birch, are expected to be intolerant of climate warming. Likewise, many of the birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and insects that inhabit these forest ecosystems are at their southern range edges here and are considered sensitive to climate change. Furthermore, local species’ adaptive capacity is limited by habitat fragmentation, high rates of invasive species, and other stressors.
There is considerable uncertainty with respect to the magnitude and direction of future changes, particularly with respect to interactions with changes in land use and land management, as well as novel interactions amongst co-occurring species. Thus, a focus on climate adaptation in northern forest ecosystems, including evaluations of the impacts of particular actions, is critical.
This project has three phases:
Phase I: Determining causes of vulnerability
The NE CASC has as part of its mission to conduct stakeholder-driven research to understand climate Impacts on freshwater resources and land-use change as well as ecosystem vulnerability and species response to climate variability and change. In the face of increasing temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and large uncertainty, natural resource managers need to assess vulnerability of species in order to develop adaptation options and conservation strategies. This research is evaluating how shifting climate is directly and indirectly affecting mammal populations in the northeasten U.S. We use a variety of methods to do this, including long-term data, field surveys, elevational transects, camera trapping, live trapping, radio telemetery, genetic analysis, and isotope analysis, as well as literature syntheses and project screening tools. The goal is to understand how current community dynamics may be altered given predicted changes in climate and habitat to inform conservation and management in the region.
Phase II: Adaptation through resilience and resistance
This project supports collaborations between the NE CASC and the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service to increase the resilience and resistance of climate-vulnerable species and ecosystems. The project will reveal how mammal distributions are shifting in northern forest landscapes and investigate how climate change adaptation strategies, including conserving climate change refugia, could benefit forests, wildlife, and northeastern economies. After documenting changes in mammal distribution in northern forest landscapes associated with climate variation to help fill a critical data gap and help to inform regional models (Phase I), we will:
Phase III: Cooperative Research on Adapting to Climate Change for Habitats and Species in the Northeast
- Investigate and compare climate change adaptation strategies in order to improve management of climate-vulnerable forests and their dependent wildlife in the face of climate change.
- Make recommendations for conserving climate change refugia, areas buffered from climate change that enable persistence of species of conservation concern or economic benefit.
This project seeks to build on research conducted over the last decade by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, in collaboration with the Northeast CASC, in order to improve the efficacy of adaptation and, ultimately, reduce the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems in the northeastern U.S. Project goals are to: 1) understand how forest structure and community composition affect moose and white-tailed deer presence and abundance, 2) gather data on the effect of climate change on the northern bog lemming (which has been petitioned for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act), 3) gather key information to inform the conservation of endemic butterflies (the White Mountain arctic and White Mountain fritillary), and 4) anticipate which species will invade northeastern forests due to climate change, so that managers can use early detection/rapid response to manage them. The research conducted as part of these goals will be used to inform resource managers and decision-makers as they make decisions in the context of climate change.