In the northern hardwood forest, climate change is expected to reduce the viability of the maple syrup industry, encourage the spread of wildlife diseases and invasive species, and impact timber resources and the winter sports economy.
Accurately gauging the pace of change in the Adirondacks has been challenging, owing to the relative dearth of long-term local data. Now, a new study published by 21 scientists that reviews 50 years of data from Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire concludes that our current models of climate change don’t account well for surprising real world changes taking place in local forests.
“Climate change plays out on a stage that is influenced by land-use patterns and ecosystem dynamics. We found that global climate models omit factors critical to understanding forest response, such as hydrology, soil conditions, and plant-animal interactions,” Dr. Peter Groffman contends. Groffman is a microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the study’s lead author.
The absence of insulating snow pack, exposes soils to more frequent freezing, which damages tree roots. Sugar maples are suffering a one-two punch: soil frost is linked to tree mortality and warmer winters reduce sap yield. Mild winters are also encouraging the spread of pests and pathogens, including the destructive hemlock woolly adelgid—which was once held in check by cold winter temperatures.
As snow depth decreases, deer are better able to forage in the forest. Their browsing damages young trees and spreads a parasite that is lethal to moose. Reduced snow pack is also a challenge for logging operations, which use snow-packed roads to move trees, and ski resorts, which already rely heavily on manmade snow.
Groffman concludes, “Managing the forests of the future will require moving beyond climate models based on temperature and precipitation, and embracing coordinated long-term studies that account for real-world complexities.” Adding, “These studies can be scaled up, to give a more accurate big picture of climate change challenges—while also providing more realistic approaches for tackling problems at the regional scale.”
You can read the full study, “Long-Term Integrated Studies Show Complex and Surprising Effects of Climate Change in the Northern Hardwood Forest” here [pdf].
You can read more about climate change in the Adirondacks here.