Central Hardwoods Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the Central Hardwoods Climate Change Response Framework Project

This report was prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Central Hardwoods Climate Change Response Framework Project in conjunction with the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Assessing the ecosystem vulnerability to climate change of nine natural community types in the Central Hardwoods Region, the document uses forest model projections and projections for wildfires, invasive species, and diseases. This assessment evaluates the vulnerability of terrestrial ecosystems in the Central Hardwoods Region of Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri to a range of future climates. The report is part of a larger USFS project of three ecoregional assessments covering 132 million acres of the northeastern United States that interweave science and management partnerships, vulnerability assessments, adaptation resources, and demonstration projects.

The report uses past, present, and projected future conditions and trends to give parameters and context to multiple vegetation impact models, and assessed the range of potential vegetative responses through a multidisciplinary panel of scientists and land managers. The summary identifies major forest landscape stressors, including invasive species, habitat fragmentation, oak decline, and decrease in fire in fire-adapted systems.

The adaptive capacity of systems within the Central Hardwoods Region was also examined as a key component to overall vulnerability to climate change. Finally, relative vulnerability of nine major forest community types in the region was assessed (see Table 1). A chapter summarizes the implications of these impacts and vulnerabilities for forest management across the region.

The first chapter describes the forests and related ecosystems across the Central Hardwoods landscape and summarizes current threats and management trends. This information lays the foundation for understanding how shifts in climate may contribute to changes in Central Hardwoods ecosystems, and how climate may interact with other stressors on the landscape.

A chapter on ‘Projected Changes in Climate and Other Physical Processes’ examines how climate may change over the next century using two models representing a range of possible futures that are downscaled to be relevant to land management decisions. In some cases, these downscaled data are then incorporated into hydrologic models to better understand impacts on such variables as soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and streamflow.


The Climate Change Response Framework (CCRF), established in 2009, is a collaborative effort led by the USFS Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. The Framework works to bring together climate science with on-the-ground management of climate impacts, and provides partnerships, vulnerability assessments, forest adaptation resources, and case studies.



Publication Date: February 2014

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