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Vulnerability of forests of the Midwest and Northeast United States to climate change

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Abstract

Forests of the Midwest and Northeast significantly define the character, culture, and economy of this large region but face an uncertain future as the climate continues to change. Forests vary widely across the region, and vulnerabilities are strongly influenced by regional differences in climate impacts and adaptive capacity. Not all forests are vulnerable; longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures will increase suitable habitat and biomass for many temperate species. Upland systems dominated by oak species generally have low vulnerability due to greater tolerance of hot and dry conditions, and some oak, hickory, and pine species are expected to become more competitive under hotter and physiologically drier conditions. However, changes in precipitation patterns, disturbance regimes, soil moisture, pest and disease outbreaks, and nonnative invasive species are expected to contribute forest vulnerability across the region. Northern, boreal, and montane forests have the greatest assessed vulnerability as many of their dominant tree species are projected to decline under warmer conditions. Coastal forests have high vulnerability, as sea level rise along the Atlantic coast increases damage from inundation, greater coastal erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion. Considering these potential forest vulnerabilities and opportunities is a critical step in making climate-informed decisions in long-term conservation planning.

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  1. For more information, see www.forestadaptation.org.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for insightful and constructive comments on the manuscript.

Funding

This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northern Research Station and Eastern Region.

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Correspondence to Chris Swanston.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “Vulnerability Assessment of US Agriculture and Forests developed by the USDA Climate Hubs” edited by Jerry L. Hatfield, Rachel Steele, Beatrice van Horne, and William Gould.

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Swanston, C., Brandt, L.A., Janowiak, M.K. et al. Vulnerability of forests of the Midwest and Northeast United States to climate change. Climatic Change 146, 103–116 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2065-2

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