Simulating boreal forest dynamics from perspectives of ecophysiology, resource availability, and climate change

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Boreal forests are under strong influences from climate change, and alterations in forest dynamics will have significant impacts on global climate-biosphere feedback as well as local to regional conservation and resource management. To understand the mechanisms of forest dynamics and to assess the fate of boreal forests, simulation studies should be based on plant ecophysiological responses onto environmental conditions. In central Canadian boreal forests, local geomorphology created by past glacial activities often generates a mosaic of very distinctive forest types. On sandy hilltop of a glacial till, due to limitations in moisture availability and short fire return intervals, drought-tolerant and fire-adapted jack pine usually becomes the dominant species. On mesic and nutrient-rich slopes, fast-growing and resource-demanding trembling aspen forms mixed forests with coniferous species. In bottomland, black spruce, slowly growing but tolerant species, is often the only species that can survive to the adult stage. These three very distinctive forest types often occur within a scale of 10 m. Simulation models of boreal forests should be able to reproduce this heterogeneity in forest structure and composition as an emergent property of plant ecophysiological responses to varying environmental properties. In this study, a process-based forest dynamics model, ecosystem demography model version 1.0, is used to mechanically reproduce the landscape heterogeneity due to edaphic variations. First, boreal tree species of northern Manitoba, Canada, are parameterized according to field observations, and, to explicitly capture interactions among tree saplings, allometric equations based on diameter at height of 0.15 m, instead of the conventional breast height of 1.37 m, is parameterized. Then, soil moisture regime and nutrient concentrations are statistically incorporated from a dataset. The resultant simulation successfully reproduces the distinctive forest dynamics influenced by the edaphic heterogeneity. The sequences of succession and the trajectories of forest development are generally consistent with the field observations. The differences in resource availability are the essential control on equilibrium values of total forest leaf area index. Next, to show the effect of anthropogenic atmospheric changes, changes in temperature and CO2 concentrations are studied by a set of factorial experiments. The magnitude of CO2 fertilization is largely affected by soil fertility. The temperature rise will increase the length of growing season, but can have a negative impact on forest growth by increasing aridity and autotrophic respiration. Overall, the boreal forest responses to climate change are complex due to the inherent edaphic variations and ecophysiological responses.


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Last updated on 04/28/2015