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Changes in forest biomass and tree species distribution under climate change in the northeastern United States



Forests in the northeastern United States are currently in early- and mid-successional stages recovering from historical land use. Climate change will affect forest distribution and structure and have important implications for biodiversity, carbon dynamics, and human well-being.


We addressed how aboveground biomass (AGB) and tree species distribution changed under multiple climate change scenarios (PCM B1, CGCM A2, and GFDL A1FI) in northeastern forests.


We used the LANDIS PRO forest landscape model to simulate forest succession and tree harvest under current climate and three climate change scenarios from 2000 to 2300. We analyzed the effects of climate change on AGB and tree species distribution.


AGB increased from 2000 to 2120 irrespective of climate scenario, followed by slight decline, but then increased again to 2300. AGB averaged 10 % greater in the CGCM A2 and GFDL A1FI scenarios than the PCM B1 and current climate scenarios. Climate change effects on tree species distribution were not evident from 2000 to 2100 but by 2300 some northern hardwood and conifer species decreased in occurrence and some central hardwood and southern tree species increased in occurrence.


Climate change had positive effects on forest biomass under the two climate scenarios with greatest warming but the patterns in AGB over time were similar among climate scenarios because succession was the primary driver of AGB dynamics. Our approach, which simulated stand dynamics and dispersal, demonstrated that a northward shift in tree species distributions may take 300 or more years.

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This project was funded by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, a cooperative agreement from the United States Geological Survey Northeast Climate Science Center, and the University of Missouri-Columbia. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent views of the Northeast Climate Science Center or the USGS. This manuscript is submitted for publication with the understanding that the United States Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes.

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Correspondence to Wen J. Wang.

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Appendix Fig 1. The predicted extinction (in red), colonization (in green), and persistence (in blue) rates for 24 tree species under PCM B1, CGCM A2, and GFDL A1FI modeling scenarios at 2050 in the northeastern United States. Supplementary material 1 (PNG 741 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (PNG 807 kb)


Appendix Fig 2. The predicted extinction (in red), colonization (in green), and persistence (in blue) rates for 24 tree species under PCM B1, CGCM A2, and GFDL A1FI modeling scenarios at 2100 in the northeastern United States. Supplementary material 3 (PNG 738 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (PNG 842 kb)

Supplementary material 5 (DOCX 341 kb)

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Wang, W.J., He, H.S., Thompson, F.R. et al. Changes in forest biomass and tree species distribution under climate change in the northeastern United States. Landscape Ecol 32, 1399–1413 (2017).

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  • Demography
  • Disturbance
  • Dispersal
  • Forest landscape model
  • Occurrence