As climate change slowly kicks in over the coming decades, the province's ecological regions will shift north, says the study commissioned by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute.
"We're looking at a future of change," the report's author, Rick Schneider, said Tuesday.
The institute — an arm's length scientific agency funded by government, industry and levies on industrial carbon emissions — concluded that the province's average temperature will rise between 2 C and 4 C by the end of the century.
Precipitation will rise by up to about nine per cent, although most of that increase will come in winter and will be negated by the higher temperature.
To get some idea of how that will change the look of the province, Schneider reviewed a prehistoric period of similar warm temperatures.
"We've had this little bit of an experiment 6,000 years ago, where it was roughly a couple of degrees warmer," he said.
Data from that period generally agreed with climate models that suggest ecological zones will move north.
By the 2080s, southern grasslands will take over central forests and central forests will take over northern wetlands. The southern end of the province will look like present-day Wyoming and Idaho, dominated by sagebrush and other species adapted to extreme dryness.
Most lakes in the present-day grassland and parkland areas are likely to dry up.
The changes will be slow and gradual. But they will require some forethought, Schneider said.
Forestry companies could consider the province's future climate in their replanting plans. Protected areas and land-use plans should all take the warming climate into account, he said.
The earlier Alberta adapts to its changing environment, the more options it will leave for future generations, Schneider said.
"The barn isn't burning right now. But the idea that things will always be as they have been and all our parks and landscapes are immutable ... we need to wake up to the idea that we're looking at a future of change."
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