Climatic Change

, Volume 117, Issue 1, pp 289-303

First online:

Tracking suitable habitat for tree populations under climate change in western North America

  • Laura K. GrayAffiliated withDepartment of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta Email author 
  • , Andreas HamannAffiliated withDepartment of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta

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An important criticism of bioclimate envelope models is that many wide-ranging species consist of locally adapted populations that may all lag behind their optimal climate habitat under climate change, and thus should be modeled separately. Here, we apply a bioclimate envelope model that tracks habitat of individual populations to estimate adaptational lags for 15 wide-ranging forest tree species in western North America. An ensemble classifier modeling approach (RandomForest) was used to spatially project the climate space of tree populations under observed climate trends (1970s to 2000s) and multi-model projections for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. We find that, on average, populations already lag behind their optimal climate niche by approximately 130 km in latitude, or 60 m in elevation. For the 2020s we expect an average lag of approximately 310 km in latitude or 140 m in elevation, with the most pronounced geographic lags in the Rocky Mountains and the boreal forest. We show that our results could in principle be applied to guide assisted migration of planting stock in reforestation programs using a general formula where 100 km north shift is equivalent to approximately 44 m upward shift in elevation. However, additional non-climatic factors should be considered when matching reforestation stock to suitable planting environments.