Modeling the Local Ecological Response to Regional Landscape and Global Change Forcings: A Case Study of Bioenergy in North Carolina, USA
Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Sustainable energy policies in Europe have led to a growing market for bioenergy, and especially wood pellets, as a means to reduce fossil fuel emissions and the attendant socio-environmental consequences from climate change. However the introduction of this market has the potential to create significant negative ecological impacts whose costs are borne far from Europe. Because of its existing forest products infrastructure and resources, the Southeast US is viewed as an attractive supplier of wood pellets to Europe. Consequently, a new global telecoupling has developed between these two regions linking the natural capital of one region to the energy needs and greenhouse gas abatement policy of the other. Additionally, habitat for many important wildlife species in the Southeast lie within a rapidly urbanizing region characterized by low-density auto-dependent growth. Combined, these two forcings have the potential to rapidly degrade species-rich ecosystems. Here the ecological effects of increased European demand for wood pellets are examined in North Carolina. Future land use and vegetation change were projected using the results from linked urbanization, vegetation dynamics, life cycle analysis, and forest timber economics models. Ecological impacts as measured for 16 amphibian and avian species were evaluated under five bioenergy production scenarios and one urbanization-only scenario. Results indicate that highly vagile or upland species are able to take advantage of the increase in vegetated land cover, even if the majority of new habitat is in intensively managed forests. Conversely, more sessile and range-limited species, particularly those found in coastal plain systems such as bottomland hardwood forest, show steeper declines under the wood pellet scenarios than under the urbanization-only scenario. These results highlight the challenge of evaluating the sustainability of developing markets that seek to mitigate certain aspects of global environmental change but risk exacerbating others.