Helping Forest Ecosystems Adapt to Impacts of Changing Climate

Friday, September 14, 2018

Photo Credit: UVM Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources News

NE CASC PI Tony D'Amato leads a national experimental project in northern New Hampshire that uses carefully planned timber harvests and planting of selected tree species to help forests transition and be more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns and other stressors.

Adapting Forests for Change

Tony D’Amato leads national, regional and local field experiments to help adapt forests to changes in climate and forest health

University of Vermont, August 6, 2018

Eleven University of Vermont researchers and students spent five days in late May planting 7000 tree seedlings in the wilderness of northern New Hampshire. The work, part of a national series of field experiments intended to run for decades, will test ways to help forest ecosystems adapt to impacts of changing climate and disturbances. 

In addition to increasing temperatures in the Northeast, scientists project shorter winters, changing precipitation patterns, more destructive wind and ice events, and greater damage from forest insects and diseases. 

“Some dominant tree species, such as sugar maple, are predicted to decline on certain sites under future climate scenarios, while for other species, such as northern red oak, habitat suitability is expected to increase,” said Tony D’Amato, a silviculturist and professor in the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and primary lead on the project. 

D’Amato and his UVM team, along with the USDA Forest Service and other partners, are using silviculture, or tactics to grow and regenerate trees and maintain the health and ecological conditions of forests. The silvicultural experiment at the Second College Grant in New Hampshire includes strategic harvesting of trees and creation of openings, or gaps, for growth of planted seedlings — all based on ecological science — to help the future forest adapt. 

“Given the unprecedented number of stressors our future forests will face, such as climate change, invasive species, heavy deer browse, and fluctuating timber markets, developing science to meet these challenges is paramount to the sustainability of future forests,” said Christopher Woodall, a scientist with the Forest Service Northern Research Station and co-lead on the New Hampshire project.  

“We are focusing on three adaptation strategies: resistance, resilience, and transition,” said D’Amato who has practiced forest research for close to twenty years. “We are trying to increase forest ecosystem resistance and resilience to projected climate change scenarios using silvicultural techniques that carefully select trees to harvest and retain so that we increase the complexity of this northern hardwood forest with trees of all ages, sizes, and species.”

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 Map image credit:  Jennifer Santoro