In the densely urban City of New York, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) manages more than 30,000 acres of municipal parkland with over 7,000 acres of natural forest. The City’s forests vary in size and composition and exist in isolated patches with the majority of forest communities dominated by oak/tulip and oak/hickory associations. As atmospheric CO2and average temperatures rise in the coming years, climate change will impact the health and distribution of forests in the northeastern United States including range shifts of tree species northward. Local data on species abundance and composition in NYC shows that there already changes in the species composition of tree seedling recruitment compared to tree canopy composition. Using existing data collected in over 1,124 forest plots we quantitatively characterized the abundance of species across different vegetation structural layers to analyze tree species distribution and abundance in NYC’s natural area forests. We compared this data with climate science models including the US Forest Service Climate Change Tree Atlas that predict the adaptability of tree species found in the northeast in future climate change scenarios. Using this model as the foundation of our tree species list, we plan to use this analysis to develop a specific climate adapted planting list for NYC.
Here we present the process we used to develop planting lists that shift our forest restoration planting palette to forest associations and species that have a high likelihood of being successful in future climate scenarios in New York City. We present the preliminary results and restoration progress in NYC natural area forests as an example of proactive management of urban forests to support climate change resiliency. Specifically, we present lists of species projected to be resilient to increased temperatures and elevated CO2 levels, species list and planting density recommendations for all current NYC ecological communities, and planting palettes of resilient species that are ecologically appropriate in existing stands of at-risk species. We conclude that developing this tool will guide practitioners and non-scientist decision- makers toward selecting species that are site-appropriate as well as adapted to cope with the future projected conditions to ensure healthy functional forests. As an example of proactive urban forest management supporting climate change resiliency, the completed project will serve as a model applicable to many northeastern cities and growing urban areas.