Climate change implications in the northern coastal temperate rainforest of North America

We synthesized an expert review of climate change implications for hydroecological and terrestrial ecological systems in the northern coastal temperate rainforest of North America. Our synthesis is based on an analysis of projected temperature, precipitation, and snowfall stratified by eight biogeoclimatic provinces and three vegetation zones. Five IPCC CMIP5 global climate models (GCMs) and two representative concentration pathways (RCPs) are the basis for projections of mean annual temperature increasing from a current average (1961-1990) of 3.2°C to 4.9-6.9°C (5 GCM range; RCP4.5 scenario) or 6.4-8.7°C (RCP8.5), mean annual precipitation increasing from 3130 mm to 3210-3400 mm (3-9 % increase) or 3320-3690 mm (6-18 % increase), and total precipitation as snow decreasing from 1200 mm to 940-720 mm (22-40 % decrease) or 720-500 mm (40-58 % decrease) by the 2080s (2071-2100; 30-year normal period). These projected changes are anticipated to result in a cascade of ecosystem-level effects including: increased frequency of flooding and rain-on-snow events; an elevated snowline and reduced snowpack; changes in the timing and magnitude of stream flow, freshwater thermal regimes, and riverine nutrient exports; shrinking alpine habitats; altitudinal and latitudinal expansion of lowland and subalpine forest types; shifts in suitable habitat boundaries for vegetation and wildlife communities; adverse effects on species with rare ecological niches or limited dispersibility; and shifts in anadromous salmon distribution and productivity. Our collaborative synthesis of potential impacts highlights the coupling of social and ecological systems that characterize the region as well as a number of major information gaps to help guide assessments of future conditions and adaptive capacity.


Shanley, C.S., S. Pyare, M.I. Goldstein, P. Alaback, D. Albert, C. Beier, T. Brinkman, R.T. Edwards, E. Hood, A. MacKinnon, M. McPhee, T. Patterson, L. Suring, D. Tallmon, and M. Wipfli. 2015. Climate change implications in the northern coastal temperate rainforest of North America. Climatic Change. 130: 155-170. DOI: doi: 10.1007/s10584-015-1355-9.