Relative vulnerability to climate change of trees in western North America

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Case, Michael J., and Joshua J. Lawler
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Many recent changes in tree species distributions, mortality, and growth rates have been linked to changes in climate. Managing forests in the face of climate change will require a basic understanding of which tree species will be most vulnerable to climate change and in what ways they will be vulnerable. We assessed the relative vulnerability to climate change of 11 tree species in western North America using a multivariate approach to quantify elements of sensitivity to climate change, exposure to climate change, and the capacity to adapt to climate change. Our assessment was based on a combination of expert knowledge, published studies, and projected changes in climate. Of the 11 species, Garry oak (Quercus garryana) was determined to be the most vulnerable, largely because of its relatively high sensitivity. Garry oak occupies some of the driest low woodland and savanna sites from British Columbia to California and is highly dependent on disturbances, such as periodic, low intensity fire. Big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) was determined to be the least vulnerable, largely because of its adaptive capacity. Big leaf maple can reproduce quickly after disturbances and its seeds can disperse long distances potentially allowing it to move in response to a changing climate. Our analyses provide a framework for assessing vulnerability and for determining why some species will likely be more vulnerable than others. Such information will be critical as natural resource managers and conservation practitioners strive to address the impacts of climate change with limited funds.


Case, Michael J., and Joshua J. Lawler. 2016. “Relative Vulnerability to Climate Change of Trees in Western North America.” Climatic Change, January, 1–13. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1608-2.