Climate Change Impacts

Climate Change Impacts in Southern New England

Key climate change impacts considered for this study area include:

  • Climate models suggest that temperatures will increase 3 to 10°F by the end of the century in the region, which will also increase the growing season.
  • Precipitation patterns will continue to change, with less winter snow and the potential for drier and droughty conditions later in the growing season.
  • Many “northern” tree species will face increasing stress from climate change, while those that have more southerly distributions and can tolerate hotter and drier conditions might have a greater competitive advantage. 
  • Climate change is likely to increase threats from many forest stressors, including insect pests, forest diseases, invasive plant species, and deer.
  • Extreme storms, including heavy precipitation events, hurricanes and other extreme wind events are expected to increase and have an effect on trees and forest infrastructure.

The forests being examined in this study, like many others in the region, are currently undergoing a shift from red oak and hickory dominance toward shade-tolerant maples, birches and beech and other mesic species. This shift can make the forest more susceptible to climate change by reducing the forests’ resilience to hotter and drier conditions. At the same time, gypsy moth outbreaks and other factors have increased mortality of overstory oak in the study area and adjacent forests. The current conditions of the forest provide an opportunity to explore different options for climate change adaptation: resisting climate-driven changes, enhancing the resilience of the current oak-hickory forest to anticipated conditions, and transitioning the forest to a novel-assemblage of future-adapted species.