Tree Species Most At Risk in a Changing Climate

By Kevin M. Potter and William W. Hargrove

Asheville, NC (September 3, 2013) – Changing climate may pose a threat to forest tree species, forcing three potential population-level responses: toleration/adaptation, movement to suitable environmental conditions, or local extirpation.

Assessments that prioritize and classify tree species for management and conservation activities in the face of climate change will need to incorporate estimates of the risk posed by climate change to each species.

To assist in such assessments, researchers developed a set of four quantitative metrics of potential climate change pressure on forest tree species:

  1.  percent change in suitable area,
  2.  range stability over time,
  3.  range shift pressure, and
  4.  current realized niche occupancy.

All four metrics are derived from climate change environmental suitability maps generated using the Multivariate Spatio-Temporal Clustering (MSTC) technique, which combines aspects of traditional geographical information systems and statistical clustering techniques.

As part of the Forecasts of Climate-Associated Shifts in Tree Species (ForeCASTS) project, we calculated the predicted climate change pressure statistics for North American tree species using occurrence data from the USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program.

Of 172 modeled tree species, all but two were projected to decline in suitable area in the future under the Hadley B1 Global Circulation Model/scenario combination. Eastern species under Hadley B1 were predicted to experience a greater decline in suitable area and less range stability than western species, although predicted range shift did not di er between the regions.

Eastern species were more likely than western species, on average, to be habitat generalists. Along with the consideration of important species life-history traits and of threats other than climate change, the metrics described here should be valuable for e fforts to determine which species to target for monitoring e fforts and conservation actions.

So which tree species are most at risk? September elm, delta post oak, Kentucky coffeetree, and Carolina hemlock are species of particular concern. See the published study for a complete table of results.

Quantitative metrics for assessing predicted climate change pressure on North American tree species
Which Tree Species are Most at Risk in a Changing Climate?