Modeling the impacts of organic layer depth on forest stand recovery from disturbance in the North American boreal forest

Friday, 19 December 2014
Anna T Trugman1, David Medvigy1, Nicole Fenton2 and Yves Bergeron2, (1)Princeton University, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton, NJ, United States, (2)University of Quebec Abitibi-Témiscamingue UQAT, Rouyn-Noranda, QC, Canada
The boreal forest contains over 30 percent of Earth’s terrestrial carbon, stored mainly as organic matter in soils. Warming temperatures have decreased the fire return interval at many locations, potentially opening more boreal forest space to early-successional deciduous species. However, previous observational studies have shown that the residual forest organic layer depth after a fire can be directly related to fire severity and that this organic layer depth plays a critical role in determining post-fire secondary succession in the North American boreal forest. In this study, we use a numerical model constrained by field data to evaluate: (1) the extent to which the organic layer inhibits deciduous seedling establishment; (2) whether differences in seedling establishment after mild and severe burns affect mature forest structure and composition on decadal to century time scales. Our modeling experiments were carried out with the Ecosystem Demography model version 2 (ED2) terrestrial biosphere model. ED2 is designed to explicitly track the growth and mortality of individual trees, which compete for light, water, and nutrients using an open nitrogen cycle. Our simulations feature parameterizations for aspen and black spruce species-types as well as a new dynamic soil organic layer module with species-specific litter decay rates. The updated boreal forest model is validated using several datasets across the North American boreal forest that range from daily carbon and energy fluxes to multi-century basal area chronosequences including: (1) sub-daily to monthly eddy covariance measurements taken in Delta Junction, Alaska and Manitoba, Canada; (2) decade-long forest inventory data from the Cooperative Alaska Forest Inventory taken throughout the Alaskan boreal forest; and (3) multi-century basal area chronosequences measured in Manitoba and Quebec. We then use the model to identify the controls that the soil organic layer exerts on secondary succession between aspen and black spruce, and subsequent forest growth using a suite of post-fire burn scenarios.