Monday, October 31, 2011

Climate Change and Changing Fall Foliage - A Little Less Colorful in the Northeast?


I cannot imagine a northeastern U.S. without the vibrant fall colors of the maple-beech- Vermont forest-fall-08-web
birch forest (image seen right). But recently the U.S. Forest Service issued projections demonstrating that the suitable habitat for maple, beech, and birch trees may shift almost entirely out of the northeastern U.S. under a higher carbon emissions scenario by the year 2100 (click on image at the top). The habitat shift would occur due to climate change-induced changes in precipitation patterns and, of course, temperature.

The fauna and other flora that go along with the maple-beech-birch forest ecosystem would also disappear from the northeast as the habitat shifts. But ecological effects are not all that are at stake when it comes to shifting forest habitats and climate change. The effects of the forest shift on tourism and aesthetic values in the northeast would be profound. Tourism based on fall foliage in New England attracts over 1 million tourists annually and generates $1 billion in revenue. Of course, the oak-hickory forest that would move into the northeast under a higher emissions scenario provides its own mix of beautiful colors and aesthetic values. But it just seems strange to consider that in only a few generations the northeasterners and tourists of the future may have to look at old coffee table books to know what New England forests once looked like in the fall.

- Blake Hudson

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