Climate Change Effects and Adaptation Approaches for Terrestrial Ecosystems

  • Patricia Tillmann
  • Jan 23, 2014

With the growing number of scientific papers on climate change and continued interest among resource managers and conservationists to account for climate change in their work, there is a need to summarize climate change information for key geographies and ecosystems. In response to this need, National Wildlife Federation produced an extensive compilation of climate change effects and adaptation approaches specific to the terrestrial ecosystems of the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) geography.

Covering 204,000 square miles, the NPLCC region extends from southcentral Alaska to northwest California along the coast and stretches up to 150 miles inland to the crests of the Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges. Verdant temperate rainforests dominate a landscape peppered by prairies and woodlands in the south, many glaciers in the north, and subalpine and alpine habitats at the highest elevations. The NPLCC region is home to iconic grizzly bear and salmon, a robust outdoor recreation industry, and a wide range of habitats crucial for the survival of many species and critical to the Way of Life for many Tribes, First Nations, and Native Alaskans. Many of these species, habitats, and ecosystems are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate.

Key Findings:

  • Fire frequency and severity is increasing in the NPLCC region, with the exception of many wet, coastal areas where fire is expected to remain rare. The black-backed woodpecker and olive-sided flycatcher may benefit from more intense fires, while flammulated owl, Clark’s grebe, black tern, and other birds are at high risk from changing fire, temperature, and precipitation regimes.
  • Spruce bark beetle, Swiss needle cast, and sudden oak death are expected to remain key insect and disease agents of change for trees. Yellow-cedar decline is also expanding in the north and outbreaks of mountain pine beetle may increase in some locations.
  • Carbon storage is expected to decrease despite the persistence of some large carbon stores.
  • Forests will remain the dominant habitat type, but their distribution and composition may change significantly due to range changes in many tree species. Projected habitat losses and transitions will tend to be exacerbated where insect disturbance (especially bark beetles) and disease are prevalent or co-occur with drought stress, which when combined can make trees more susceptible to fire as they weaken, dry out, and die.
  • The projected northward expansion of prairie-oak habitat may support northward movements of blue-gray gnatcatcher, western scrub jay, western meadowlark, and other birds. However, habitat loss and conversion are expected to constrain the overall amount of this habitat type in the future.
  • Rosy-finches and white-tailed ptarmigan are expected to decline or be extirpated as alpine habitats in Washington and Alaska shrink, while Alaska’s blue grouse may benefit as Sitka spruce-western hemlock habitat moves upslope.
  • Milder, less snowy winters are projected to further isolate habitat for the snow-dependent wolverine, potentially benefit moose, mountain goat and deer populations due to increases in forage, and may benefit or strain Canada lynx, depending on the response of key prey species such as snowshoe hare to climate change and competition with coyote and cougar.
  • Although uncertainty and gaps in knowledge exist, sufficient scientific information is available to plan for and address climate change impacts now.

Since climate change scenarios generally project a further increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and an associated exacerbation of climate change effects, adaptation is emerging as an appropriate response to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Adaptive actions such as incorporating climate projections into forestry practices and increasing or linking protected areas and habitats expected to persist over time can reduce a system‘s vulnerability and increase its capacity to be resilient to changing conditions. Ultimately, successful climate change adaptation will enhance the ability of natural and human communities to prepare for, accommodate, or cope with current and future climatic changes.

Climate Change Effects & Adaptation Approaches for Terrestrial Ecosystems

An extensive compilation of climate change effects and adaptation approaches specific to the terrestrial ecosystems of the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (NPLCC) geography.


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