Interactions of forest disturbance-recovery dynamics with a changing climate
Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 13:55
2008 (Moscone West)
As the climate changes, altered disturbance-recovery dynamics in forests worldwide are likely to result in significant biogeochemical and biophysical feedbacks to the climate system. Climate shapes forest disturbance events including tree mortality and fire, with consequent climate feedbacks. For instance, in forests globally, drought increases tree mortality rates, having a stronger impact on larger trees and resulting in greater feedbacks to climate change than would occur if drought sensitivities were equal across tree size classes. Forest regeneration and associated biogeochemical and biophysical feedbacks are also shaped by climate: across the tropics the rate of biomass accumulation is faster in everwet than in seasonally dry climates, and in the Klamath region (N California / S Oregon), post-fire vegetation dynamics and microclimate are shaped by aridity. Forest recovery dynamics will be affected by elevated CO2 and climate change; for instance, models predict that forest regeneration rate, successional dynamics, and climate feedbacks will all be altered under elevated CO2. In combination, climatic impacts on disturbance and recovery can result in dramatic shifts in forest cover on the landscape level. For instance, in fire-prone forested landscapes, forest cover decreases with increasing frequency of high-severity fire and decreasing forest recovery rate, both of which could be altered by climate change, producing rapid loss of forest on the landscape level. Such effects may be amplified by the existence of alternative stable states, which can cause systems to experience non-reversible changes in cover type. Critical transitions in landscape-level forest cover would have significant biogeochemical and biophysical feedbacks. Thus, altered disturbance-recovery dynamics under a changing climate may have sudden and dramatic impacts on forest-climate interactions.