Assessing the Vulnerability of Military Installations in the Coterminous United States to Potential Biome Shifts Resulting from Rapid Climate Change

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Climate-change impacts to Department of Defense (DoD) installations will challenge military mission and natural resource stewardship efforts by increasing vulnerability to flooding, drought, altered fire regimes, and invasive species. We developed biome classifications based on current climate for the coterminous United States using the Holdridge Life Zone system to assess potential change on DoD lands. We validated classifications using comparisons to existing ecoregional classifications, the distribution of major forest types, and tree species in eastern North America. We projected future life zones for mid- and late-century time periods under three greenhouse gas emission scenarios (low-B1, moderate-A1B, and high-A2) using an ensemble of global climate models. To assess installation vulnerability (n = 529), we analyzed biome shifts using spatial cluster analysis to characterize interregional variation, and identified representative installations for subsequent landscape-level analyses. Although mean annual temperatures are expected to increase, installations located in the Northeast, Lake States, and western Great Plains are likely to experience the largest proportional increases in temperature. Accordingly, forest and grassland communities at these installations managed to support a wide range of training, and environmental objectives may be adversely affected by altered disturbance regimes, heat, and moisture stress. However, precipitation is projected to increase in the Northeast and Lake States mitigating some effects of increased temperatures on biological communities. Given the uncertain response to climate change in different ecoregions, additional environmental and stewardship attributes are needed within a decision-support framework to understand vulnerabilities and provide appropriate responses.



Climate change, Forests, Holdridge life zones, Military installations, North America