Climatic Change

, Volume 136, Issue 2, pp 367–379 | Cite as

Relative vulnerability to climate change of trees in western North America

  • Michael J. CaseEmail author
  • Joshua J. Lawler


Many recent changes in tree species distributions, mortality, and growth rates have been linked to changes in climate. Managing forests in the face of climate change will require a basic understanding of which tree species will be most vulnerable to climate change and in what ways they will be vulnerable. We assessed the relative vulnerability to climate change of 11 tree species in western North America using a multivariate approach to quantify elements of sensitivity to climate change, exposure to climate change, and the capacity to adapt to climate change. Our assessment was based on a combination of expert knowledge, published studies, and projected changes in climate. Of the 11 species, Garry oak (Quercus garryana) was determined to be the most vulnerable, largely because of its relatively high sensitivity. Garry oak occupies some of the driest low woodland and savanna sites from British Columbia to California and is highly dependent on disturbances, such as periodic, low intensity fire. Big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) was determined to be the least vulnerable, largely because of its adaptive capacity. Big leaf maple can reproduce quickly after disturbances and its seeds can disperse long distances potentially allowing it to move in response to a changing climate. Our analyses provide a framework for assessing vulnerability and for determining why some species will likely be more vulnerable than others. Such information will be critical as natural resource managers and conservation practitioners strive to address the impacts of climate change with limited funds.


Adaptive Capacity Dispersal Ability Sensitivity Score Western Larch High Adaptive Capacity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This publication was partially supported by grants from US Geological Survey, the US Park Service, and the US Department of the Interior Northwest Climate Science Center. Thomas Hinckley, Don McKenzie, and three anonymous referees provided helpful comments on an early draft of the manuscript. We are grateful to the many experts and groups of experts who participated in our series of climate-change workshops, especially David Giblin, Warren Devine, Joe Rocchio, and Regina Rochefort. We are also grateful to Carole Guizzetti who assisted with figures.

Supplementary material

10584_2016_1608_MOESM1_ESM.docx (483 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 483 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental and Forest SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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