, Volume 82, Issue 1-2, pp 391-400

The aspen parkland in western Canada: A dry-climate analogue for the future boreal forest?

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Abstract

Predicted future changes in regional climate under a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations were applied to the 1951–80 normals of 254 climate stations to examine future impacts on the boreal forest of western Canada. Previous analyses have indicated that in this region, the southern boreal forest is presently restricted to areas where annual precipitation (P) exceeds potential evapotranspiration (PET). The present analysis suggests that a predicted 11% increase in P would be insufficient to offset the increases in PET resulting from a predicted warming of 4–5°C. As a result, half of the western Canadian boreal forest could be exposed to a drier climate similar to the present aspen parkland zone (P < PET), where conifers are generally absent and aspen is restricted to patches of stunted trees interspersed with grassland. Future changes could result in permanent losses of forest cover following disturbance and an increase in the proportion of exposed edge habitat in remaining stands, where environmental conditions might induce additional stresses on tree growth. Thus if the predicted warming and drying occurs, productivity of aspen and other commercial species in the southern boreal forest would be greatly reduced.