An empirical, hierarchical typology of tree species assemblages for assessing forest dynamics under global change scenarios
The composition of tree species occurring in a forest is important and can be affected by global change drivers such as climate change. To inform assessment and projection of global change impacts at broad extents, we used hierarchical cluster analysis and over 120,000 recent forest inventory plots to empirically define forest tree assemblages across the U.S., and identified the indicator and dominant species associated with each. Cluster typologies in two levels of a hierarchy of forest assemblages, with 29 and 147 groups respectively, were supported by diagnostic criteria. Groups in these two levels of the hierarchy were labeled based on the top indicator species in each, and ranged widely in size. For example, in the 29-cluster typology, the sugar maple-red maple assemblage contained the largest number of plots (30,068), while the butternut-sweet birch and sourwood-scarlet oak
assemblages were both smallest (6 plots each). We provide a case-study demonstration of the utility of the typology for informing forest climate change impact assessment. For five assemblages in the 29-cluster typology, we used existing projections of changes in importance value (IV) for the dominant species under one low and one high climate change scenario to assess impacts to the assemblages. Results ranged widely for each scenario by the end of the century, with each showing an average decrease in IV for dominant species in some assemblages, including the balsam fir-quaking aspen assemblage, and an average increase for others, like the green ash-American elm assemblage. Future work should assess adaptive capacity of these forest assemblages and investigate local population- and community-level dynamics in places where dominant species may be impacted. This typology will be ideal for monitoring, assessing, and projecting changes to forest communities within the emerging framework of macrosystems ecology, which emphasizes hierarchies and broad extents.