Part 3: Tree Atlas Tool and Expected Changes to Tree Species Abundance

Guiding Question: 

To what extent will climate change impact suitable habitat of the abundant tree species identified in your forest plot?


The Tree Atlas tool assesses the current status and potential future status following climate change, of 134 tree species in the eastern United States. The Tree Atlas tool uses US Forest Service inventory data with 38 environmental variables to generate models of current suitable habitat for each species. The Tree Atlas tool then changes the climate according to three climate models and two emissions scenarios, and model the potential future species habitats.
The Tree Atlas presents species abundance according to the potential suitable habitat. This is not necessarily where the trees will actually be at the end of the century, as there are often great lag times in tree migration, but simply the predicted location of where the best habitat for that species will be.

For more information, see the Tree Atlas website or the Tree Atlas Screencast Tutorial.


Materials (one per student):


Estimated Time: 

What to do and how to do it:

  1. INTRODUCTION:  Background provided on the Tree Atlas tool.  A quick tour of the tool is presented, or watch the Tree Atlas Screencast Tutorial.
  2. Students individually explore the Tree Atlas tool (use Tree Atlas Procedure handout).
  3. Once students are acquainted with the Tree Atlas tool, they return to the research question they developed in the Investigating Climate Data handout concerning climate change and the 2-3 abundant tree species in their field plot.
  4. With a partner, Students refine their research question to explore the overarching question: to what extent will climate change impact suitable habitat of the abundant tree species identified in your forest plot?
  5. Students use the Tree Atlas tool to investigate their research question. The structured inquiry experience directs how students apply the Tree Atlas tool and how the data are recorded. The guided inquiry experience provides students an opportunity to design their own investigation plan, data tables, and/or graphs.
  6. Instruct student groups to use chart paper to report revised question and major findings. 
  7. WRAP-UP:  Some student groups share findings with classmates using the chart paper as a mini-poster.