Habitats and Resources

Connecticut contains a wide variety of ecological habitats ranging from the coast to the highest elevations in the northwestern part of the state. Our geological history, climate and soils, as well as land use history, shape the habitats and vegetation we see today. The term “habitat” is used in a very broad sense here to encompass both the biological component of a particular place (such as a forest dominated by certain tree species) as well as the physical location where a particular species is likely to be found (such as a vernal pool where fairy shrimp would likely be found) or a coastal sand dune (where American beach grass occurs).

Habitats of Connecticut include: forests, woodlands, shrublands, grasslands and meadows, as well as cliffs or bluffs, rocky outcrops, vernal pools, ponds and lakes, rivers and streams.

This website provides information on specific habitats and management considerations, including how climate change is impacting these habitats and climate adaptation solutions. To date, habitat information is provided for Connecticut’s coastal habitats, grasslands and riparian zones.

Climate Change Overview:

The climate of the northeastern United States is already changing: average annual air temperatures have risen by almost 2°F between 1895 and 2011 (USGCRP 2014); precipitation has increased by about 5 inches (Kunkel et al. 2013); average water temperatures in Long Island Sound have increased at a rate consistent with global averages (Coastal Ocean Analytics 2016); and, sea levels have risen about 1 ft since 1900 (USGCRP 2014). As an example, southeastern Connecticut has been identified as an air temperature hotspot in the northeast that has already exceeded 2.9°F of average temperature change (temperature anomaly) between 1895-2018 (NOAA).

While dependent on emission scenarios, air temperatures are still expected to increase as will the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. The frost-free season and growing season will be longer (Horton et al. 2014). While precipitation patterns are less certain, seasonal drought risk is projected to increase in summer and fall (NPCC 2010). Sea level rise projections for Long Island Sound are 20 inches by 2050 (O'Donnell 2019). In a recent report by Seth et al. (2019), based on the high CO2 (RCP8.5) scenario, the following projections are expected for Connecticut through 2100: large increases are projected for annual changes in air temperature through 2100, as well as in seasonal average temperatures for all part of Connecticut; increases in growing season length; a decrease in frost days; increases in annual precipitation with the greatest increases in winter and spring, increased drought risk; and, an increase in frequency of previously rare extreme events.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment provides a summary of current and projected climate change impacts for the Northeastern United States.

All these climatic changes will impact vegetation and associated wildlife. Refer to specific habitats for expected impacts.

Other References:

Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, J. Rennells, A. DeGaetano, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 1. Climate of the Northeast U.S., NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-1, 79 pp.

NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: County Mapping, published April 2020, retrieved on May 4, 2020 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/

O'Donnell, J. 2019. https://circa.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1618/2019/10/Sea-Level-Rise-Connecticut-Final-Report-Feb-2019.pdf

Seth A., G. Wang, K. Kirchhoff, K. Lombardo, S. Stephenson, R, Anyah, and J. Wu. 2019. Connecticut Physical Climate Science Assessment Report (PCSAR) Observed trends and projections of temperature and precipitation. 74 pp. https://circa.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/1618/2019/08/CTPCSAR-Aug2019.pdf

USGCRP. 2014. Horton, R., G. Yohe, W. Easterling, R. Kates, M. Ruth, E. Sussman, A. Whelchel, D. Wolfe, and F. Lipschultz, 2014: Ch. 16: Northeast. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J. M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G. W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program.


The creation of this web page was funded in part through a grant from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to the University of Connecticut.

For Citation Purposes: Connecticut Sea Grant & University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research. (June 8, 2016). Habitats and Resources. https://climate.uconn.edu/habitats-resources/