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What Trees Are Climate-Resilient in My Region?

Posted by: Arthur’s Point Farm


December 23, 2023

Ecological shifts from climate change are occurring more rapidly and significantly than forests can adapt. The unnatural speed of change demands active, large-scale planting of a biodiverse selection of climate-resilient tree species capable of adapting to the changing environment. The U.S. Forest Service’s Climate Change Tree Atlas is a great tool to help us understand what species are more or less resilient to these changes, and what new species might thrive as habitats shift. The Tree Atlas model evaluates the habitat suitability, migration potential, and characteristic traits for over 125 species native to the Eastern U.S. Two future climate scenarios – a high and a low case – are used to test tree species’ adaptability to their native range and possible new habitat that could emerge. Results can be filtered by ecoregion, watershed, urban area, and map grid.

Applying the Tree Atlas to the Berkshire-Taconic Region

Understanding what tree species will adapt best as ecological zones shift from climate change will help us steward farms and forests for a resilient future. We applied the Tree Atlas to our area – the Berkshire-Taconic region – to help inform what we plant on our farm and what we offer for sale from our nursery, now and in the future. The map below delineates the precise coordinates of the area we analyzed with the Tree Atlas.

Interpreting the outputs of the Tree Atlas model requires a good understanding of the nuances of the region. The Berkshire-Taconic region spans from the Hudson River to the Taconic Mountain range of eastern New York and the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, up to the southern Green Mountains of Vermont and down to the northwest corner of Connecticut. The area ranges in elevation from sea level at the Hudson River to nearly 3,500 feet at Mt. Greylock. It includes important farmland at the lower elevations close to the Hudson and in other smaller river valleys, along with a large amount of contiguous forest land that provides an important wildlife corridor connecting the Catskills to the Berkshires and up into the Green Mountains. Check out this short video from our friends at the Columbia Land Conservancy.

Climate-Resilient Tree Species of the Berkshire-Taconic Region

Trees With Good Climate Adaptability – Berkshire Taconics
Common NameScientific Name
boxelderAcer negundo
red mapleAcer rubrum
silver maple+Acer saccharinum
sugar mapleAcer saccharum
mockernut hickory+Carya alba
bitternut hickoryCarya cordiformis
pignut hickory+Carya glabra
shagbark hickory+Carya ovata
hackberry+Celtis occidentalis
eastern red cedar+Juniperus virginiana
tulip poplar+Liriodendron tulipifera
eastern hophornbeam; ironwoodOstrya virginiana
sycamore+Platanus occidentalis
white oak+Quercus alba
chestnut oak+Quercus prinus
northern red oakQuercus rubra
black oak+Quercus velutina
sassafras+Sassafras albidum
American basswoodTilia americana
 * denotes potential for habitat increases

Trees With Poor Climate Adaptability – Berkshire Taconics
Common NameScientific Name
balsam firAcer negundo
striped mapleAcer pensylvanicum
mountain maple+Acer spicatum
serviceberryAmelanchier spp.
yellow birch+Betula alleghaniensis
sweet birchBetula lenta
river birch+Betula nigra
paper birch+Betula papyrifera
gray birch+Betula populifolia
American hornbeam+Carpinus caroliniana
black ash+Fraxinus nigra
eastern tamarack (native)Larix laricina
red sprucePicea rubens
pitch pinePinus rigida
eastern white pinePinus strobus
equaking aspenPopulus tremuloides
pin cherryPrunus pensylvanica
swamp white oakQuercus bicolor
bur oakQuercus macrocarpa
pin oakQuercus palustris
black willowSalix nigra
American mountain-ashSorbus americana
eastern hemlockTsuga canadensis

Non-Endemic Trees, Good Future Habitat – Berkshire Taconics
Common NameScientific Name
pawpawAsimina triloba
eastern redbudCercis canadensis
common persimmonDiospyros virginiana
sweetgumLiquidambar styraciflua
shortleaf pinePinus echinata
Table Mountain pinePinus pungens
loblolly pinePinus taeda
Virginia pinePinus virginiana
southern red oakQuercus falcata
blackjack oakQuercus marilandica
willow oakQuercus phellos
post oakQuercus stellata

Considerations When Using the Tree Atlas

Some considerations to keep in mind when interpreting results from the Tree Atlas in your region:

  • First, your region may contain a wide range of ecological variability like ours does, especially elevation and soil differences, which means the recommendations may align differently across an area. For example, what may thrive along the rich soils of the Hudson River may not do well in the rocky, high elevations of of the Berkshire or Green Mountains.
  • Second, the Tree Atlas focusses on climate-resilience by considering projected weather changes over time; it doesn’t attempt to deal with all possible stressors, like increases of pests and diseases even though some of these stressors can be exacerbated by a changing climate. For example, the Atlas rates American beech (Fagus grandifolia) as having good climate adaptability under the higher climate scenario, yet diseases affecting beech in our region might argue against focusing on replanting beech versus other more adaptive species.
  • Third, introducing non-endemic species to an area requires care to select the most hearty seed sources from the most similar regions, bringing characteristics of the most compatible local ecotypes. For example, species like paw paw or American persimmon do not naturally occur in our region, so we must seek out seed from the most cold-hearty individual trees from similar regions. We attempt to do this with all of our seed sourcing and we expect for many new species to our area there will be a period of further selection as new groves and orchards are established, so future generations of these species can be as adaptable as possible to their new environments.
With these caveats in mind, the Atlas can provide a starting point for considering which trees to plant as we help forests adapt in the coming decades. It is always important to consult with local foresters and ecologists to better understand what species may be best suited to particular areas.

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