Climate Change: Impacts

Tue, 11/08/2011 - 09:35 -- cadoughe

Because the forests of Western North Carolina may experience great change, how we use forest resources may also change. The ability to manage for disturbances affected by climate change varies greatly; therefore, strategies for coping with impacts from climate change in forests will vary regionally and by management area.

Integrating information about climate change and its potential impacts at a regional scale can help us answer the following questions about forest sustainability:

* How do forest disturbances interact with climate change?
* How should the forests be monitored to inform decisions?
* What information is needed to understand the response of a forest to changing conditions?
* What changes could forest managers make to reduce negative impacts of climate change?

Impacts on Forest Sustainability

Forests are acclimated to the climate zones in which they are found. Warming temperatures due to climate change will shift suitable conditions. With changing temperatures and precipitation, dominating forest types are likely to change. Warmer temperatures will shift suitable habitat for forests higher in altitude.


Decreased precipitation or increased temperature will lead to increased drought. Drought occurs in all forest types, and the general response of forests to drought is to reduce vegetation growth. Under severe drought, forests reduce vegetation growth and plants die. When drought occurs over multiple growing seasons, increased susceptibility to insects or pathogens is possible.


The frequency, size, and intensity of fires depend on climate as well as forest structure and composition. While fire is a natural occurrence in many forest types, increased frequency and severity of natural fires would greatly impact the forest. Decreased precipitation from climate change would increase fire risk in areas that become drier, and these changes could compound existing fire risks. While fire may be detrimental to some forest types, the vulnerability of the forest will depend on its resiliency and ability to adapt.

Insect Infestations

Changes in temperature and precipitation also affect insect and pathogen survival, reproduction, and distribution. These changes can have a range of effects on forests and lead to increased tree mortality rates. The loss of certain tree species to disease or infestation can significantly reduce biodiversity and wildlife habitat.