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Increasing the resilience and resistance of climate-vulnerable northeastern species and ecosystems

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Alexej Siren
Bill Deluca
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
Hector Galbraith
Melissa Ocana
Molly Cross (Wildlife Conservation Society)
Laura Thompson (NCASC)
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New Hampshire
Rhode Island
New York
New Jersey
West Virginia
+19 more
In Progress


The northeastern U.S. is highly exposed to climate change; in fact, the rate of change is higher than most places on earth (Karmalkar and Bradley 2017). The forests of the Northeast CASC region, and the wildlife that inhabit them, are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  In particular, the boreal forests, a biome that reaches from Alaska to the Northeast, and the northern hardwoods, including sugar maple and paper birch, are expected to be intolerant of climate warming. Likewise, many of the birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and insects that inhabit these forest ecosystems are at their southern range edges here and are considered sensitive to climate change. Furthermore, local species’ adaptive capacity is limited by habitat fragmentation, high rates of invasive species, and other stressors. There is considerable uncertainty with respect to the magnitude and direction of future changes, particularly with respect to interactions with changes in land use and land management, as well as novel interactions amongst co-occurring species. Thus, a focus on climate adaptation in northern forest ecosystems, including evaluations of the impacts of particular actions, is critical. 

Phase I: Determining causes of vulnerability
The NE CASC has as part of its mission to conduct stakeholder-driven research to understand climate Impacts on freshwater resources and land-use change as well as ecosystem vulnerability and species response to climate variability and change.  In the face of increasing temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and large uncertainty, natural resource managers need to assess vulnerability of species in order to develop adaptation options and conservation strategies. This research is evaluating how shifting climate is directly and indirectly affecting mammal populations in the northeasten U.S.  We use a variety of methods to do this, including long-term data, field surveys, elevational transects, camera trapping, live trapping, radio telemetery, genetic analysis, and isotope analysis, as well as literature syntheses and project screening tools. The goal is to understand how current community dynamics may be altered given predicted changes in climate and habitat to inform conservation and management in the region.  

Phase II:  Adaptation through resilience and resistance
This project supports collaborations between the NE CASC and the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service to increase the resilience and resistance of climate-vulnerable species and ecosystems. The project will reveal how mammal distributions are shifting in northern forest landscapes and investigate how climate change adaptation strategies, including conserving climate change refugia, could benefit forests, wildlife, and northeastern economies.  After documenting changes in mammal distribution in northern forest landscapes associated with climate variation to help fill a critical data gap and help to inform regional models (Phase I), we will:   Investigate and compare climate change adaptation strategies in order to improve management of climate-vulnerable forests and their dependent wildlife in the face of climate change. Make recommendations for conserving climate change refugia, areas buffered from climate change that enable persistence of species of conservation concern or economic benefit. Read Phase II Final Report >>

Phase III: Cooperative Research on Adapting to Climate Change for Habitats and Species in the Northeast
This project seeks to build on research conducted over the last decade by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, in collaboration with the Northeast CASC, in order to improve the efficacy of adaptation and, ultimately, reduce the impact of climate change on forest ecosystems in the northeastern U.S. Project goals are to: 1) understand how forest structure and community composition affect moose and white-tailed deer presence and abundance, 2) gather data on the effect of climate change on the northern bog lemming (which has been petitioned for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act), 3) gather key information to inform the conservation of endemic butterflies (the White Mountain arctic and White Mountain fritillary), and 4) anticipate which species will invade northeastern forests due to climate change, so that managers can use early detection/rapid response to manage them. The research conducted as part of these goals will be used to inform resource managers and decision-makers as they make decisions in the context of climate change.


The Wildlife Society Conference Annual Meeting, Oct 2, 2019; Reno, NV
Direct and indirect effects of climate and biotic factors on wildlife communities in the northeastern U.S. (Siren) Species on the Move conference, "Assessing impacts of climate-driven range shifts" (Morelli) Kruger National Park, July 26, 2019
Morelli, Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) workshop in Burlington, VT, Feb 14, 2019
Forest Ecosystem Monitoring Cooperative Annual Meeting, organized session "Wildlife and Climate"; plenary talk by Morelli "Climate change vulnerability and adaptation of forest wildlife"; and "Distribution dynamics of mesocarnivore populations along trailing and leading edges in the northeastern U.S." presentation by Siren, December 7, 2018
Wildlife Society Conference Annual Meeting, Interacting Effects of Predation, Density-Dynamics, and Resource Availability on Southern Snowshoe Hare Populations, Cleveland, OH, Oct 10, 2018
Looking beyond wildlife: Using remote cameras to evaluate accuracy of gridded snow data, MtnClim 2018 Conference, Gothic, CO, September 20, 2018;
​Interacting Effects of Predation, Density-Dynamics, and Resource Availability on Southern Snowshoe Hare Populations, MtnClim 2018 Conference, Gothic, CO, September 20, 2018
New York Department of Environmental Protection moose working group workshop, Adirondacks, May 2018
"The Climate Project Screening Tool: Incorporating Climate Adaptation into On-the-Ground Agency Activities", NEAFWA, Burlington, VT, April 18, 2018
Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change working group meeting, New Hampshire, February 2018 ​
Climate change refugia, landscape connectivity, and translational ecology. Reed College Department of Biology, February 2018
Using decision tools to assess vulnerability and manage wildlife response to climate change. Annual Michigan Department of Natural Resources Professional Development Training, Traverse City, MI, January 2018
Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) workshop in Burlington, VT, Jan 22, 2018, which will incorporate some of the red squirrel and other SiMPL camera trap data
University of Connecticut Department of Environment and Wildlife, November 2017
Climate change refugia, landscape connectivity, and translational ecology. University of Connecticut Department of Environment and Wildlife, November 2017
Northeast Forest Carnivore Working Group Workshop, SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center (AEC); Newcomb, NY, September 28-29, 2017
"Integrating and implementing climate change in State Wildlife Action Plans", NAF, St Paul, MN, May 2017
"Wildlife Vulnerability to Climate Change" at the NE CSC Regional Science Meeting in May 2017
NE CASC webinar "Using Decision Tools to Assess Vulnerability and Inform Management of Wildlife in the Northeast", Amherst, MA, March 29, 2017
76th Annual Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, presented " The Northeast Climate Science Center: Improving the Way Climate Science Informs Resource Management" Lincoln NE, Feb 7, 2017
Keynote speech at the annual meeting of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, "Climate change and the backyard gardener", January 21, 2017
The Wildlife Society, "Climate Change Impacts on Wildlife" Hadley, MA, Nov 17, 2016
A community perspective on the effects of climate change on species distributions in the boreal forest of the northeastern United States, AGU 2016
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