Species distribution models (SDMs) to evaluate trees' potential responses to climate change are essential for developing appropriate forest management strategies. However, there is a great need to better understand these models' limitations and evaluate their uncertainties. We have previously developed statistical models of suitable habitat, based on both species' range and abundance, to better understand potential changes of 134 tree species habitats in the eastern United States (http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/atlas). Our focus here is to build on these results via a more robust assessment framework called modification factors (ModFacs) that is made up of five components. ModFac 1 addresses nine biological characteristics (e.g., shade tolerance and seedling establishment) that quantify the influence of species life-history traits. ModFac 2 considers 12 disturbance characteristics (e.g., insect pests, drought, and fire topkill) which address the capacity of a species to tolerate and respond to climate-induced changes in habitat. ModFac 3–5 distill the tree SDM results and facilitate communication of model uncertainty; we quantified the variability in projected change for General Circulation Models (GCM) and emissions scenarios (ModFac 3), the extent to which each species' habitat intersects novel climate conditions (Mod-Fac4), and accounted for long-distance extrapolations beyond a species’ current range (ModFac5). The life-history components of ModFacs 1 and 2 demonstrate the marked variability among species in terms of biological and disturbance characteristics, suggesting diverse abilities to adapt to climate change. ModFacs 3–5 show that the information from the SDMs can be enhanced by quantifying the variability associated with specific GCM/emission scenarios, the emergence of novel climates for particular tree species, and the distances of species habitat shifts with climate change. The ModFacs framework has high interpretive value when considered in conjunction with the outputs of species habitat models for this century. Importantly, the intention of this assessment was not to create a static scoring system, but to broadly assess species characteristics that likely will play an important role in adaptation to climate change. We believe these scores based on biological, disturbance, and model synthesis factors provide an important expansion of interpretive and practical value to habitat model projections.
Matthews, Stephen N.; Iverson, Louis R.; Prasad, Anantha M.; Peters, Matthew P.; Rodewald, Paul G. 2011. Modifying climate change habitat models using tree species-specific assessments of model uncertainty and life history-factors. Forest Ecology and Management. 262: 1460-1472.