Mid-Atlantic Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis: A Report from the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Response Framework Project

This U.S. Forest Service report develop provides an assessment of the vulnerability of forest ecosystems in the Mid-Atlantic region and was designed to help resource managers incorporate climate change considerations into management practices. The report synthesizes the best available scientific information on climate change and forest ecosystems, focusing on a study area including 60 million acres of land across eastern Maryland, southern New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Of this area, about 32 million acres are forested. It was developed as part of the Mid-Atlantic Climate Change Response Framework and was lead by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. Framework projects are being completed in six regions across the U.S. and are designed to enhance collaboration among scientists, natural resource managers, and landowners and to facilitate incorporation of adaptation into forest management practices.

The assessment is organized in seven chapters covering the following topics and main points:

This resource was featured in the November 30, 2018 ASAP Newsletter.

"A new report from the USDA summarizes how climate change is already affecting forests across the Mid-Atlantic region, including damage from heavy precipitation events, extreme heat, and saltwater intrusion. This assessment provides a foundation for numerous adaptation efforts underway, including those led by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science through the Climate Change Response Framework."

Chapter 1: The Contemporary Landscape
- provides an assessment of current forest conditions in the study area, including current forest threats and management trends.

  • The Mid-Atlantic region includes 60 million acres of land with 32 million acres that are forested.
  • 74 percent of that forest land in the region is owned by private individuals, corporations, and conservation organizations and the remainder is publicly owned.
  • The most abundant tree species in the region, include oak/hickory and maple/beech/birch
  • Current major stressors and threats to Mid-Atlantic forest ecosystems, include fragmentation and land-use changes, nonnative invasive species and pests, shifts in drought, flood and fire regimes; sea level rise; and more.
  • The region is seeing net forest growth at a rate of three times the rate of removals and tree mortality.

Chapter 2: Climate Change Science and Modeling - provides background on climate change science, downscaling and modeling used in the study.

Chapter 3: Observed Climate Change - summarizes observed changes and current climate trends across the Mid-Atlantic region, with a focus on the last 100 years

  • The study notes that both temperature minimums (lows) and maximums (highs) have both increased, with the greatest increase in winter temperatures.
  • Precipitation patterns have changed throughout the region with an increase in intense precipitation events.
  • Sea levels have risen by 12 inches since 1900 along the Atlantic coastline, which is faster than global average
  • Climate change has resulted in observed changes growing seasons wildlife migrations, and more.

Chapter 4: Projected Changes in Climate and Physical Processes - provides climate projections for the study area to 2100.

  • Temperatures are expected to increase over the century under all scenarios and affecting all seasons, with an increase in the number of hot days.
  • Precipitation is expected to increase in winter and spring, increasing the potential for flooding during these seasons.
  • Growing seasons are expected to increase by 1 month.
  • Sea levels are also projected to increase by up to 7 feet by 2100 in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Chapter 5: Future Climate Change Impacts on Forests - summarizes potential impacts to forest ecosystems in the study area.

  • The study used a forest impact model to assess impacts to tree species growth and habitat looking at factors such as moisture stress, invasive species, pests, disease, and other factors.
  • Certain tree species (e.g., beech, hemlock, white pine) will have reductions in suitable habitat; however, some southern species (e.g., post oak, scarlet oak, and southern red oak) will see an increase in suitable habitat.

Chapter 6: Forest Ecosystem Vulnerabilities - provides detailed vulnerability assessments for 11 forest ecosystems, including an assessment of the features of the ecosystem (or "drivers"), the features that will disturb the system (or "stressors"), and the ability of the system to accommodate or cope with changes (or "adaptive capacity").

  • The study assessed potential impacts to forest ecosystems in consideration of increasing temperatures, longer growing seasons, changing precipitation patterns, additional sea-level rise, changes in soil moisture, increasing incidence of drought, and increasing risk of wildfire, increasing occurrence of pests and disease, and increasing extent and abundance of invasive species.
  • The study provides an assessment of the types of tree species that will see reductions in suitable habitat and those that will see increases in suitable habitat.
  • The report discusses how tree regeneration and recruitment will be affected by climate change.
  • The report also describes the factors that will affect the adaptive capacity of the different forest ecosystems including the diversity of the forest community, the fragmentation of the landscape, and the ability of the tree species to migrate to new areas.

Chapter 7: Management Implications - describes the forest management implications of potential climate change impacts.

  • The report notes that land conservation planning will need to include consideration of adaptation to provide for landscape connectivity and migration corridors.
  • Climate change may necessitate changing the timing of activities, such as tree removal, prescribed burns, and recreational uses of forest ecosystems.
  • Changing climate conditions and extreme events will affect infrastructure (roads, culverts) that will also affect forest management in the region.
  • Changes in wildfire risk may require more resources to reduce fuel loads and for fire suppression activities.

In order to maintain access to this website, we are linking to an archived version of the website saved on February 27, 2019. The original link can be found here: https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/gtr/gtr_nrs181.pdf

Publication Date: October 2018

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