The importance of succession, harvest, and climate change in determining future forest composition in a temperate hardwood forest.
Most temperate forests in U.S. are recovering from heavy exploitation and are in intermediate successional stages where partial tree harvest is the primary disturbance. Changes in regional forest composition in response to climate change are often predicted for plant functional types using biophysical process models. These models usually simplify the simulation of succession and harvest and may not consider important species-specific demographic processes driving forests changes. We determined the relative importance of succession, harvest, and climate change to forest composition changes in a 125-million ha area of the Central Hardwood Forest Region of U.S. We used a forest landscape modeling approach to project changes in density and basal area of 23 tree species due to succession, harvest, and four climate scenarios from 2000 to 2300. On average, succession, harvest, and climate change explained 78, 17, and 1% of the variation in species importance values (IV) at 2050, respectively, but their contribution changed to 46, 26, and 20% by 2300. Climate change led to substantial increases in the importance of red maple and southern species (e.g., yellow-poplar) and decreases in northern species (e.g., sugar maple) and most of widely distributed species (e.g., white oak). Harvest interacted with climate change and accelerated changes in some species (e.g., increasing southern red oak and decreasing American beech) while ameliorated the changes for others (e.g., increasing red maple and decreasing white ash). Succession was the primary driver of forest composition change over the next 300 years. The effects of harvest on composition were more important than climate change in the short term but climate change became more important than harvest in the long term. Our results show that it is important to model species-specific responses when predicting changes in forest composition and structure in response to succession, harvest, and climate change.