Federal Coordinating Lead Authors:
Shawn Carter, U.S. Geological Survey
Jay Peterson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Chapter Leads:
Douglas Lipton, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Madeleine A. Rubenstein, U.S. Geological Survey
Sarah R. Weiskopf, U.S. Geological Survey
Chapter Authors:
Lisa Crozier, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Michael Fogarty, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Sarah Gaichas, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Kimberly J. W. Hyde, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Toni Lyn Morelli, U.S. Geological Survey
Jeffrey Morisette, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Invasive Species Council Secretariat
Hassan Moustahfid, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Roldan Muñoz, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Rajendra Poudel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Michelle D. Staudinger, U.S. Geological Survey
Charles Stock, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Laura Thompson, U.S. Geological Survey
Robin Waples, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Jake F. Weltzin, U.S. Geological Survey
Review Editor:
Gregg Marland, Appalachian State University
USGCRP Coordinators:
Matthew Dzaugis, Program Coordinator
Allyza Lustig, Program Coordinator

Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity

All regions and ecosystems of the United States are experiencing the impacts of climate change. However, impacts will vary by region and ecosystem: not all areas will experience the same types of impacts, nor will they experience them to the same degree (Ch. 2: Climate, KM 5 and 6). Regional variation in climate impacts are covered in detail in other sectoral and regional chapters of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. However, in Figure 7.5, a wide range of regional examples are provided at multiple scales to demonstrate the varied ways in which biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services are being impacted around the United States.


Figure 7.5: Regional Ecosystems Impacts

Alaska Northwest Northern Great Plains Midwest Northeast Southwest Southern Great Plains Southeast Hawaii and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands U.S. Caribbean Region

Click on a region for examples of impacts to biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services.

Grape growers in Oregon and Washington may benefit from warming temperatures as more frost-free days could provide premium growing sites for the next 50–100 years.{{< tbib '1' '28a86b7f-c68a-4d17-bd11-083814d9ed27' >}}
Reduced snowpack is predicted to result in a significant reduction in snow-based recreation opportunities. In the Northwest, under the RCP8.5 scenario, downhill skiing visits and revenue are projected to drop by $155 million and 1.6 million visits by 2050.{{< tbib '2' '80dd6dfe-4dea-4253-a65b-53f620805f9a' >}}
Climate-change vulnerability assessments of steelhead and bull trout found that both species had depleted adaptive capacity in regions most exposed to climate change.{{< tbib '3' 'f3b02c1c-8314-4f1a-a49e-6eb507e84378' >}} ,{{< tbib '4' '48f868df-0301-430a-9db6-6a9e285f95b6' >}}
Northern Great Plains
Northern Great Plains
The Prairie Pothole Region provides important wetland habitat for the majority of waterfowl hatch in North America. Warming temperatures and drought are projected to reduce wetlands in this region by 25% by mid-century. (Ch. 22: N. Great Plains).{{< tbib '17' 'b0e7cb51-5acb-4858-8c75-ef2b9445d0ec' >}}
Snowshoe hares in western Montana are experiencing camouflage mismatch in seasonal coat color (white in winter, brown spring to fall) due to decreasing snow cover duration. The camouflage mismatch makes them more visible to predators and requires more effort and energy to survive.{{< tbib '16' 'a00f9707-3f9a-42f8-b1fd-5bd0777c51bd' >}}
The invasive Russian olive tree is expected to continue to expand its range and outcompete native vegetation like cottonwood and willow trees, Chokecherry, and buffalo berry important for subsistence, medicinal, and ceremonial purposes (Ch. 22: N. Great Plains, Case Study ‘Crow Nation and the Spread of Invasive Species’).
In the mountains of western Wyoming and western Montana, the fraction of total water in precipitation that falls as snow (from October 1 to March 31) is expected to decline by 25% to 40% by 2100.{{< tbib '18' 'a30e16b4-cf09-4037-9f32-3d8a4b109884' >}} Season length for skiing and snowmobiling is expected to decline by up to 60% (RCP 4.5) to nearly 100% (RCP 8.5) by 2090 (Ch. 22: N. Great Plains).{{< tbib '2' '80dd6dfe-4dea-4253-a65b-53f620805f9a' >}}
Warming has reduced gene flow and survival of wolves on Isle Royale, which in turn has increased moose populations. Human-assisted introduction of wolves was approved in 2018 to help balance the ecosystem.{{< tbib '22' '832a61c9-67a1-4dc7-b048-4393f4ccf67e' >}} ,{{< tbib '23' '00b08ed0-179f-46c3-8f82-123a2244366f' >}} Lake Superior is expected to be ice free by 2040 and human-assisted introductions of wolves to the island is being proposed to conserve ecosystem structure on the island. {{< tbib '22' '832a61c9-67a1-4dc7-b048-4393f4ccf67e' >}}
In the Great Lakes, mixing of different water layers is projected to occur later in the fall and end earlier in the spring,{{< tbib '20' '5295673e-703b-42f8-9792-4ccf8e3cf747' >}} increasing the thermal habitat of the invasive sea lamprey and lengthening the overall feeding season, which would allow the parasitic fish to grow larger and negatively impact native fish species.{{< tbib '21' 'db8b5f26-296a-4cd4-8c49-de8ca8c8b39d' >}}
At the southern edge of its range in northern Indiana, the Karner blue butterfly recently declined to local extinction despite extensive long-term habitat restoration and species reintroduction. This suggests that recreating historical habitat might not be sufficient for future conservation in a changing climate.{{< tbib '24' 'fa40ff28-6d14-47a8-b7d3-604e18f04b84' >}}
The Chicago Region Trees Initiative is integrating climate change-related goals into a regional tree master plan and updating its recommended planting list to encourage climate-adapted species in urban ecosystems.{{< tbib '39' 'fd9efd98-097f-4f45-8d6f-acf0ac62417e' >}}
Bottomland hardwood forests and associated wetlands are vulnerable to climate change.{{< tbib '40' '8b4159ec-1edb-4fab-8af5-10a8cdec8fb5' >}} Major impacts include greater spring and fall precipitation and summer droughts leading to loss of suitable habitat for some tree species, and shifts in migration patterns for migratory waterfowl. Ducks Unlimited, the Shawnee National Forest, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges are working to adapt to future change by planting tree species that are tolerant of flooding and high temperatures and provide food to wildlife that are likely to breed or overwinter in the area https://forestadaptation.org/BottomlandHardwoods; video.
A heat wave in 2012 caused an earlier and larger lobster catch in New England, overwhelming both the processing capacity and market demand. This resulted in a price collapse and reduced income for lobster fishermen.{{< tbib '27' '1dfd2171-2be3-40b2-a8e2-c0df84ec462a' >}}
In the Northeast, warmer spring and fall temperatures have advanced the nymph stage of tick development by three weeks, which is expected to increase transmission of Lyme disease.{{< tbib '25' '514a2503-fc83-4e60-81d1-04421ff8ebc2' >}} Warming may also lead to the habitat expansion of the potential disease-carrying Asian Tiger mosquito.{{< tbib '26' '5a091036-8e68-41b5-a63a-ff33b8fc1889' >}}
In Pennsylvania, 13 species of songbirds have advanced their breeding date from 1961–2014, with most species advancing their breeding by 3 days per decade or more.{{< tbib '28' '26ac380e-ee88-4760-a6f4-87e2fd715f4b' >}}
Forest area burned by wildfires from 1984-2015 is estimated to be twice what it would have been in the absence of climate change.{{< tbib '35' 'de4a77df-03ba-4319-a13f-7fdefbb353a5' >}}
In Arizona and Colorado, the spring arrival of migratory broad-tailed hummingbirds has become desynchronized from the flowering of two primary nectar sources: while E. grandiflorum and D. nuttallianum have advanced their first flowering by approximately 4 days over the past thirty years, hummingbirds have only advanced their first arrival date by 1.5 days. This mismatch could negatively impact the reproductive success of the hummingbird, and prompt range shifts.{{< tbib '15' 'fc9efa0d-4df2-46cd-9588-469ce530b1aa' >}}
Projected shifts of suitable Sierra Nevada mountaintop habitat for American pika (Ochotona princeps) increase the risk of their extirpation. By 2070, the pika could disappear from over 80% of historical sites in California.{{< tbib '36' 'e028e561-0d0d-4ebd-acc0-5aa92fc73750' >}}
A marine heat wave, due to natural factors and climate change, led to mass strandings of sick or starving birds and sea lions{{< tbib '37' '742ac275-0454-4651-b877-d06b72760d2a' >}} and substantial reductions in salmon catches (Ch. 9: Oceans, Figure 9.3).{{< tbib '38' 'c61c0b4e-aab2-4dc5-9786-7c50f3bf68cf' >}}
Southern Great Plains
Southern Great Plains
As water temperatures increase along the Texas Gulf Coast, gray snapper are expanding northward while southern flounder, a popular sport fish, are becoming less abundant, impacting the recreational and commercial fishing industries. (Ch. 23: S. Great Plains, Figure 23.9).{{< tbib '19' '35894126-7a24-4180-b8fa-6099fe023548' >}}
In South Florida, warmer winter temperatures are expected to facilitate the northward movement of the Burmese python—a freeze-sensitive non-native species that has decimated mammal populations within Everglades National Park (Ch. 19: Southeast).{{< tbib '29' '24d568a5-3a01-4615-b034-4e659f5c9b4f' >}}
In the Southeast, freeze-sensitive mangrove forests are expected to move northward and replace many salt marshes as winter temperatures warm. While these forests provide their own ecological benefits, the loss and/or replacement of foundation plant species in the existing salt marsh grasses will change the types of seafood, recreational opportunities, and carbon sequestration rates provided by the existing coastal wetlands. See Figure 19.12.
Rising sea levels are expected to have a tremendous effect on coastal ecosystems in the Southeast. Louisiana faces some of the highest land loss rates in the world. Between 1932–2016, Louisiana lost 2,006 square miles of land area due in part to high rates of relative sea level rise. The rate of wetland loss was equivalent to losing an area the size of one football field every 34-100 minutes.{{< tbib '30' 'b2d510d8-d3c4-493c-ad4c-d94a33c16ec0' >}}
As warmer temperatures make berries available earlier in the spring, Kodiak brown bears have switched from eating salmon to eating berries earlier in the season. This will reduce salmon mortality and alter energy flows between aquatic and terrestrial systems.{{< tbib '9' '1e018e65-c619-45c6-87af-f52eaf1c8d37' >}}
Climate-driven changes to the timing of sea ice retreat is affecting phytoplankton blooms and zooplankton availability in the Bering Sea off of Alaska. Zooplankton are an important food source for walleye Pollock, one of the largest fisheries in the United States. The Pollock are also an important food source for other commercial and protected species, thus changes to the food web could have significant economic impacts.{{< tbib '5' 'bbe5cd81-c099-4a52-9dde-5edf3f21b0db' >}} ,{{< tbib '6' '49c4f985-e6e0-4818-a271-92dbfaf6e592' >}}
Decreasing sea ice in the Arctic is expected to result in changes in the behavior, migration, distribution, and population dynamics of polar bears and walruses, which are dependent on sea ice during parts of their lives.{{< tbib '7' 'da92a0e3-1fab-4616-a181-ed764427b250' >}},{{< tbib '8' '379cfaee-cad3-44ac-95b1-8fbb068f4ab3' >}}
Enhanced sea ice melt, respiration of organic matter, upwelling, and glacial and riverine inputs contribute to making the high-latitude North Pacific and the western Arctic Ocean vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification. This has been shown to affect the growth, survival, sensory abilities, and behavior of species of importance to Alaska, such as Tanner and Red king crab and Pink salmon (Ch. 26: Alaska).{{< tbib '10' 'abb1afcd-24bd-4235-9431-b8d79f2c9825' >}} ,{{< tbib '11' '09c0619b-650d-4a18-85b3-6c6d72e06911' >}} ,{{< tbib '12' 'e320818d-c291-4da6-976a-877125c9587c' >}} ,{{< tbib '13' '5b504fd6-a62e-4881-a532-0400e69568b1' >}} ,{{< tbib '14' '4c15f527-fd6d-4de2-9cbf-b799e8ed2a21' >}}
Hawaii and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands
Hawaii and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands
In Hawai‘i, nearly half of forest birds studied are projected to lose 50% or more of their range by 2100 as the warming climate allows avian malaria to expand higher into their mountain habitat.{{< tbib '31' 'f483b8cf-8401-40ec-9001-23466261d5fa' >}}
The majority of Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), black-footed albatross (P. nigripes), and Bonin petrel (Pterodroma hypolucea) colonies breed in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and are highly vulnerable to flooding. Under the higher scenario (RCP8.5) the combined impacts of sea-level and groundwater rise and wave-driven flooding is projected to displace more than 616,400 breeding albatrosses and petrels at Midway Atoll alone.{{< tbib '32' 'cd76b4d4-a868-4324-abb1-3400e5f19618' >}}
Increasing sea temperatures contributed to widespread coral bleaching and mortality during the summers of 2014 and 2015 in Hawaiʻi and during 2013, 2014, and 2016 in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Impacts varied by location and species, but the 2015 bleaching event resulted in an average mortality of 50% of the coral cover in western Hawaiʻi (Chapter 27 KM 4) (Figure 27.8).
U.S. Caribbean
U.S. Caribbean
Warming has led to mass bleaching and/or outbreaks of coral diseases off the coastlines of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Hawai‘i, and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands. The loss of the recreational benefits alone from coral reefs in the United States is expected to reach $140 billion by 2100 (Ch. 9: Oceans, KM 1).{{< tbib '34' '0b30f1ab-e4c4-4837-aa8b-0e19faccdb94' >}}
Between 1982 and 2010, the mean nesting date of leatherback turtles in the U.S. Virgin Islands (Sandy Point) occurred earlier, at a rate of approximately 0.17 days per year. The shift in the nesting phenology may make the Atlantic populations of leatherback turtles more resilient to climate change.{{< tbib '33' '6b18d2c8-561b-4f71-92f1-96b60d24b6cc' >}}

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Figure 7.5: This figure shows selected examples of impacts to biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services that are linked to climate change throughout the United States. Source: adapted from Groffman et al. 2014.

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