Potential Magnitude of Future Vegetation Change in Eastern North America: Comparisons with the Past

Science  01 Nov 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5032, pp. 692-695
DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5032.692


Increases in atmospheric trace gas concentrations could warm the global average temperature 1.5° to 4.5°C by the end of the next century. Application of climate-pollen response surfaces to three climate model simulations of doubled preindustrial atmospheric CO2 levels shows that the change in the equilibrium distribution of natural vegetation over eastern North America over the next 200 to 500 years could be larger than the overall change during the past 7,000 to 10,000 years and equivalent to the change that took place over the 1,000- to 3,000-year period of most rapid deglaciation. Some plant ranges and abundance maxima could shift as much as 500 to 1000 km during the next 200 to 500 years; such changes would have dramatic impacts on silvicultural and natural ecosystems. Although unprecedented vegetation change is likely if climate changes as predicted, forecasting the exact timing and patterns of change will be difficult.