Study Shows How Climate Change Affects Northeastern Hardwood Forests

Soil, vegetation, and water flow data over 50 years shows nuanced change.

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Climate change poses special challenges for hardwood forests, research shows.
Photo:Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Interview with Peter Groffman
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Interview with Peter Groffman

A new study takes a look at how climate change has impacted the northeast's hardwood forests. As WNPR's Ray Hardman reports, forests are threatened by a host of factors brought on by shorter winters.

The study gathered 50 years of solid data from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The report makes one thing clear - the current climate change models that work so well for oceans and rivers are of little use when assessing forest ecosystems:
 
"The challenge is that the effects of climate change are very complex. It's a hard problem, or as we say sometimes in science, a wicked problem."
 
That's microbial biologist and coauthor of the study Peter Groffman. He says an number of unique factors go into assessing the effect of climate change on forests in the northeast:
 
"We have less snowpack in the winter, which causes the soil to freeze more, because the snow provides an insulating blanket. So if I have frozen soil, then I have damaged roots, and that affects the interactions between the plants, and the microorganisms that live in the soil. And then if it's warmer, I know that the plants are growing more in the summer, but they might be taking more water out of the soil because it's warmer, and so it might e
 
Groffman says that climate change also impacts saplings that usually hide in the snow cover, but are now being exposed in the warmer winters and being eaten by moose and deer. 
 
The study also says climate change could have an effect on sugar maples that are particularly vulnerable to frozen roots. The study is published in the journal BioScience