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Effects of climate change on adaptive variation, species distribution, and population connectivity of conifer species across the western United States

Date: August 13, 2015

Scientists predict dramatic changes in tree species distribution and adaptive potential in a warming world


Salmon River Complex Fire in the distance on the Klamath National Forest (photo by Lance Cheung).
Salmon River Complex Fire in the distance on the Klamath National Forest (photo by Lance Cheung).
Climate change is dramatically altering the distribution, population connectivity and adaptive variation of conifer trees across the western United States, including large range shifts, reorganization of tree communities, die-offs, and decreases in productivity. Rocky Mountain Research Station scientist Samuel Cushman is leading a large interdisciplinary team to combine vast sampling of tree distribution, microclimate, and genetics information with sophisticated spatial modeling of gene flow, connectivity, and adaptive variation.

The project has provided several important tools and applications to managers, including spatially explicit, fine-scale, broad-extent, quantitative predictions of changes in species distribution, adaptive variation and population connectivity for several conifer species across the full extent of the western United States. The project is now applying these discoveries and tools to predict:

  1. which species expected to have the largest range shift,
  2. which will have limited ability to migrate in response to climate change due to barriers to dispersal,
  3. which have the potentially largest and which the smallest ability to respond to climate change through adaptation, and
  4. where and for what species assisted migration would be of highest priority and have the highest likelihood of success.

This research will benefit society by providing detailed and specific predictions of the effects of climate change on U.S. forests. Such predictions can inform the development of optimized adaptation strategies to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on forest ecosystems.

Featured Publications

Littell, Jeremy S. ; McKenzie, Donald ; Kerns, Becky K. ; Cushman, Samuel A. ; Shaw, Charles G. , 2011
Cushman, Samuel A. ; McKenzie, Donald ; Peterson, David L. ; Littell, Jeremy ; McKelvey, Kevin S. , 2007


Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Interior West Region
Northern Region
Forest Inventory and Analysis Program
External Partners: 
USGS Alaska Climate Science Center
University of Washington
Oregon State University
University of California Davis
University of Montana
Northern Arizona University
Research Location: 
Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico