Climate Warming Threatens Semi-arid Forests in Inner Asia

Friday, 19 December 2014
Xiuchen WU1, Hongyan Liu2, Zhaohuan Qi2 and Xiaoyan Li3, (1)BNU Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, (2)Peking University, Beijing, China, (3)Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
A line of evidences reveal an increasing tree growth decline and tree mortality mainly attributable to climate warming and the warming-mediated changes in drought and other processes (such as fire and insect dynamics) in many parts of world tropical, temperate and boreal forests. However, the growth responses to climate change of the widely distributed semi-arid forests are unclear. Here, we synthetically investigate the tree growth patterns during past decades and its interannual response to climate variations in Inner Asia combining the ground truth field survey and samplings, remote sensing observations and climate data. We identified a pervasive tree growth decline since mid-1990s in semi-arid forests in Inner Asia. The widely observed tree growth decline is dominantly attributable to warming-induced water stress during pre- and early growing season. Tree growth of semi-arid forests in Inner Asia is particularly susceptible to spring warming and has been suffering a prolonged growth limitation in recent decades due to spring warming-mediated water conditions. Additionally, we identified a much slower growth rate in younger trees and a lack of tree regeneration in these semi-arid forests.

The widely observed forest growth reduction and lack of tree regeneration over semi-arid forests in Inner Asia could predictably exert great effects on forest structure, regionally/globally biophysical and biochemical processes and the feedbacks between biosphere and atmosphere. Notably, further increases in forest stress and tree mortality could be reasonably expected, especially in context of the increase frequency and severity of high temperature and heat waves and changes in forest disturbances, potentially driving the eventual regional loss of current semi-arid forests. Given the potential risks of climate induced forest dieback, increased management attention to adaptation options for enhancing forest resistance and resilience to projected climate stress can be expected.

However, the functionally realistic mechanisms beneath the pervasively climate-induced forest decline/dieback still remain unclear. Network-based long-term surveys and experiment studies are urgently needed for further understandings regarding the responses of forest/tree growth to climate warming/variations.