Modeling response of Appalachian forests to climate change in greater park ecosystems
Climate change is already apparent and accelerating in many ecosystems, resulting in complex ecological responses that challenge the ability of scientists and managers to understand and plan for change. While the southeast has largely escaped the significant warming trends experienced by much of the U.S. in the past century, climate models project significant warming of several degrees in the region by 2100. Using the Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM) National Park as a case study, our objective is to synthesize our understanding of current and projected ecological changes to inform resource management strategies for adapting to climate change.
Our results present a GRSM park-centric analysis of the projected impacts of climate change on several forest types identified as important by park managers. “Impacts” are a function of exposure, the physical changes experienced by the system (e.g. changes in temperature, precipitation, etc.), and sensitivity, the magnitude of response to changes in the physical environment. Use of bioclimatic envelope models suggests important differences in exposure and sensitivity to changes in climate. For example, conditions for spruce fir-forests show a steady decline under the most extreme warming scenario, while conditions for topographically sheltered cove forests seem more stable through time. We integrate the potential impacts with assessments of adaptive capacity to create estimates of vulnerability for each forest type. Finally, in collaboration with park managers and informed by literature review, we identify possible adaptation actions for preserving and managing these important communities into the future.