Fens are biologically diverse wetlands fed by cold groundwater that may buffer these ecosystems from climate change. Cold groundwater discharge is the principal driver for the persistence of disjunct boreal and alpine plant species in temperate zone fens. In addition to relict boreal populations, fens in the northeastern U.S. support disproportionate numbers of rare plant and animal species, some of which likely are vulnerable to changes in climate. Considerable financial resources have been utilized to prioritize areas and species of high conservation concern in fens; however, limited resources have been allocated to evaluate the susceptibility of these ecosystems to climate change. Fens are highly variable in their size, landscape context, extent to which groundwater is discharged, and water chemistry. Given this variability, not all fens will respond equally to climate change.

Project Title: Climatic buffering in temperate zone fens, will rare wetland plant communities persist within a changing regional climate?

We are implementing a multifaceted approach to better understand environmental and species responses within to climate change. The overall goals of this research are to understand if fine scale climatic refugia will persist within fens, and to identify climatic vulnerability of wetlands to inform conservation efforts. We are using a combination of dendrochronology, modeling, and field studies to:

  1. Reveal differences in the growth response of Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) and Abies balsamea (balsam fir) in fen and adjacent upland settings.
  2. Describe the environmental gradients influencing the distribution of disjunct and southern range margin boreal and alpine plant species within fens.
  3. Describe the susceptibility of high conservation priority wetlands to climate change along a groundwater linkage gradient.

Location: Throughout New York State, USA

Timeline: 2008-2013

Field participants:
SUNY-ESF: Patrick A. Raney (Ph.D. Student), Andrew McCadden (intern), David Pomeranz (volunteer)

Principal Investigators:
Patrick A. Raney and Donald J. Leopold, SUNY-ESF

National Geographic Young Explorers Program, Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation

Patrick Raney, Ph.D. Student, Conservation Biology
401 Illick Hall, 1 Forestry Drive
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Syracuse, New York
Phone: 315-470-4283, email: paraney@syr.edu