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Climate Change Projections for Individual Tree Species

A series of tree species lists has been developed for ecoregions and states in the Northern Forests region to summarize anticipated changes in tree species habitat under climate change.

Tree species lists draw upon data from the Climate Change Tree Atlas, a tool produced by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station. Each handout describes variables that can be used to understand potential tree species' responses to climate change by location:

Map of USDA Forest Service Tree Atlas Tool output
Average of 3 GCM under high emissions (RCP8.5)
  • Suitable habitat: calculated based on 39 variables that explain where optimum conditions exist for a tree species, including soils, landforms, and climate variables.
  • Adaptability: based on life-history traits of a tree that might increase or decrease tolerance to expected changes, such as the ability to withstand different forms of disturbance.
  • Capability: a rating of a tree species’ ability to cope or persist with climate change in this region based on suitable habitat change (statistical modeling), adaptability (literature review and expert opinion), and abundance (Forest Inventory and Analysis data). The capability rating is modified by the abundance of a tree species in a particular location.
  • Migration Potential Model: when combined with habitat suitability, an estimate of a tree species’ colonization likelihood for new habitats. This rating can be helpful for assisted migration or focused management activities.

Remember that models are just tools, and they’re not perfect. Model projections can’t account for all factors that influence future tree species' success. If a species is rare or confined to a small area, model results may be less reliable. These factors, and others, could cause a particular tree species to perform better or worse than a model projects.

Human choices will also continue to influence forest distribution, especially for tree species that are projected to increase. Planting programs may assist the movement of future-adapted species, but this will depend on management decisions.

Despite these limits, models provide useful information about future expectations. It’s perhaps best to think of these projections as indicators of possibility and potential change.

The Climate Change Tree Atlas is available online for more detailed information on habitats throughout the eastern region. The Atlas provides information on species characteristics, life history, and current distribution for each species. Users can see which factors (e.g. temperature, elevation, soil properties) help to drive species distributions, offering some guidance on species sensitivity to large-scale climate differences. The Atlas offers maps and numerical summary data that show how each species' suitable habitat is projected to change under three different climate models, for both high and low emissions scenarios. Additionally, maps depicting the colonization likelihood of potentially suitable habitats are provided for some species.

If the summaries below do not cover the geography needed, visit the Climate Change Tree Atlas website for summaries by National Forest, National Park, HUC6 Watersheds, Ecoregional Vulnerability Assessments (EVAS), USDA Forest Service EcoMap 2007 Sections, National Climate Assessment (NCA) 2016 Regional areas, 1 x 1 ° Grid, the Eastern United States, and Urban Areas.

Browse Climate Change Projections For Individual Tree Species By Ecological Sections