Climate change and forest disturbances Public Deposited

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  • Studies of the effects of climate change on forests have focused on the ability of species to tolerate temperature and moisture changes and to disperse, but they have ignored the effects of disturbances caused by climate change (e.g., Ojima et al. 1991). Yet modeling studies indicate the importance of climate effects on disturbance regimes (He et al. 1999). Local, regional, and global changes in temperature and precipitation can influence the occurrence, timing, frequency, duration, extent, and intensity of disturbances (Baker 1995, Turner et al. 1998). Because trees can survive from decades to centuries and take years to become established, climate-change impacts are expressed in forests, in part, through alterations in disturbance regimes (Franklin et al. 1992, Dale et al. 2000). Disturbances, both human-induced and natural, shape forest systems by influencing their composition, structure, and functional processes. Indeed, the forests of the United States are molded by their land-use and disturbance history. Within the United States, natural disturbances having the greatest effects on forests include fire, drought, introduced species, insect and pathogen outbreaks, hurricanes, windstorms, ice storms, and landslides (Figure 1). Each disturbance affects forests differently. Some cause large-scale tree mortality, whereas others affect community structure and organization without causing massive mortality (e.g., ground fires). Forest disturbances influence how much carbon is stored in trees or dead wood. All these natural disturbances interact with human-induced effects on the environment, such as air pollution and land-use change resulting from resource extraction, agriculture, urban and suburban expansion, and recreation. Some disturbances can be functions of both natural and human conditions (e.g., forest fire ignition and spread) (Figure 2). This article examines how eight disturbances influence forest structure, composition, and function and how climate change may influence the severity, frequency, and magnitude of disturbances to forests. We focus on examples from the United States, although these influences occur worldwide. We also consider options for coping with disturbance under changing climate. This analysis points to specific research needs that should improve the understanding of how climate change affects forest disturbances. This paper is one in a series developed by the forest sector of the US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. In examining how forests may be affected by climate change, the Forest Sector Committee divided the topic into four areas (processes, diversity, disturbances, and socioeconomics), each of which is the focus of an article in this issue of BioScience. Impacts of climate changes on aquatic disturbances are critical, but this paper focuses on direct terrestrial impacts. The effects of a rise in sea level, coastal processes, and salinity on terrestrial systems are examined in the coastal sector of the national assessment (NAST 2000).
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  • Dale, V. H., Joyce, L. A., McNulty, S., Neilson, R. P., Ayres, M. P., Flannigan, M. D., Hanson, P. J. Irland, L.C., Lugo, A.E., Peterson, C.J., Simberloff, D., Swanson, F.J., Stocks, B.J., and Wotton,B.M. (2001). Climate change and forest disturbances. BioScience, 51(9), 723-734.
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  • 51
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  • 9
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