, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 29-43

Climatic change and the broad-scale distribution of terrestrial ecosystem complexes

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The broad-scale distribution of terrestrial ecosystem complexes is determined in large part by climate and can be altered by climatic change due to natural causes or due to human activities such as those leading to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration. Classifications that recognize the dependence of natural vegetation on climate provide one means of constructing maps to display the impact of climatic change on the geography of major vegetation zones. A world map of the Holdridge Life-Zone Classification, developed from approximately 8,000 meteorological records, is compared with a Holdridge Map with average temperature increments simulated by a. model of climate under elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration. The largest changes are indicated at high latitudes, where the simulated temperature increase is largest and the temperature intervals defining life zones are smallest. Boreal Forest Zones are replaced by either Cool Temperate Forest or Cool Temperate Steppe, depending on average precipitation. Changes in the tropics are smaller; however, in some regions, Subtropical Moist Forest is replaced by Tropical Dry Forest.

Research supported by the National Science Foundation's Ecosystem Studies Program under Interagency Agreement Nos. DEB81-15316 and DEB83-15185.