Assessing the stability of tree ranges and influence of disturbance in eastern US forests
Shifts in tree species ranges may occur due to global climate change, which in turn may be exacerbated by natural disturbance events. Within the context of global climate change, developing techniques to monitor tree range dynamics as affected by natural disturbances may enable mitigation/adaptation of projected impacts. Using a forest inventory across the eastern U.S., the northern range margins of tree distributions were examined by comparing differences in the 95th percentile locations of seedlings to adults (i.e., trees) by 0.5° longitudinal bands over 5-years and by levels of disturbance (i.e., canopy gap formation). Our results suggest that the monitoring of tree range dynamics is complicated by the limits of forest inventory data across varying spatial/temporal scales and the diversity of tree species/environments in the eastern U.S. The vast majority of tree and seedling latitudinal comparisons across measurement periods and levels of disturbance in the study were not statistically different from zero (53 out of 60 comparisons). A potential skewing of ranges towards a northern limit was suggested by the stability of northern margins of tree ranges found in this study and shifts in mean locations identified in previous work. Only a partial influence of disturbances on tree range dynamics during the course of the 5-years was found in this study. The results of this study underscore the importance of continued examination of the role of disturbance in tree range dynamics and refined range monitoring techniques given future forest extent and biodiversity implications.