Northward migration under a changing climate: a case study of blackgum (Nyssa Sylvatica)
Species are predicted to shift their distribution ranges in response to climate change. Region-wide, empirically-based studies, however, are still limited to support these predictions. We used a model tree species, blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), to study climate-induced range shift. Data collected from two separate sampling periods (1980s and 2007) by the USDA’s Forestry and Inventory Analysis (FIA) Program were used to investigate changes in abundance and dominance, and shifts in distribution, of blackgum in four ecoregions of the eastern United States. Our results indicated new recruitment of blackgum in the northern portion of its range, along with increases in both density and annual rates of change in importance value (IV). Conversely, declines in recruitment were found in the southern portion of blackgum’s range, along with decreases in density and IV. The center portion of blackgum’s range had mixed patterns of change (i.e., both increases and decreases) throughout. A northward range expansion was also detected by comparing blackgum’s historic range to where it was detected during our two more-recent sampling periods. Our findings suggest that blackgum is migrating north in response to climate change. Our study also suggests two broader implications about tree migration patterns in response to climate change: (1) species can respond to changing climate in relatively short time periods, at least for generalist species such as blackgum, and (2) climate-induced vegetation dynamic patterns can be detected at the regional level, but are inherently complex.