Abstract: In coming decades, warmer winters are likely to allow cold-sensitive forest insects to move into new areas. Recently, the southern pine beetle (SPB, Dendroctonus frontalis) has become established in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as very cold days have become rarer. In this study, we project continued expansion in climates hospitable to this major forest pest through 2090. Our results show that by the middle of the 21st century, the climate is likely to be suitable for SPB expansion into vast areas of previously unaffected forests throughout the northeastern United States and into southeastern Canada. This scenario would pose a significant economic and ecological risk to the affected regions, including disruption of ecosystem functions, shifts in forest structure, and threats to native biodiversity. Our projected timeline of SPB expansion will help forestry managers plan for this impact of climate change.
Radley Horton is an associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University. His research focuses on extreme weather events, the limitations of climate models, and adaptation to climate change. He currently teaches in Columbia University's Sustainable Development department.