CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- The highland forest along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern West Virginia has been identified as a key stronghold for allowing plants and wildlife to withstand the growing impacts of global warming in the U.S. northeast and southeastern Canada.
A new study by The Nature Conservancy has identified a series of landscapes in eastern North America that, if left intact, are predicted to be resilient enough to endure climate change.
The study, funded by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and The Nature Conservancy, analyzed 156 million acres of land stretching from Virginia to southeastern Canada. Landscapes with the most diverse topographies, elevation ranges, and geologies were judged to offer the greatest potential for accommodating plant and animal species needing to move to more habitable regions as climate change alters their traditional homes.
The Appalachian mountain range in general and the eastern highland forests of West Virginia in particular were determined to be among the most resilient landscapes identified in the study. Other key landscapes included the limestone flats of northern Maine and adjacent portions of Canada, the coastal plains and oak-pine forests of New Jersey and Virginia, and the floodplains of northeastern New York.
The study also identified important corridors that link resilient landscapes. In West Virginia, such corridors included the east side of the Cacapon River watershed in the Eastern Panhandle and the Allegheny Front along the west rim of the South Branch Valley in Grant and Pendleton counties, according to Rodney Bartgis, state director of The Nature Conservancy's West Virginia office.
Bartgis said the Dolly Sods and Cranberry Wilderness Areas, the Seneca Creek Backcountry and portions of Cheat Mountain, all within the Monongahela National Forest, were identified as key strongholds for providing habitat as the climate warms and dries, as were the New River Gorge and portions of the Greenbrier Valley.
"If we can keep these strongholds intact and connected, it increases the odds for plants and animals to persist through climate change," Bartgis said. "If you have enough land with enough variety in elevation, geology and landforms, and that land hasn't been broken up by things like highways, when it starts to warm up, plants and animals can move upslope or to a different face of the slope they're on."