, Volume 70, Issue 1-4, pp 659-673

Vegetation redistribution: A possible biosphere source of CO2 during climatic change

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Abstract

A new biogeographic model, MAPSS, predicts changes in vegetation leaf area index (LAI), site water balance and run off, as well as changes in Biome boundaries. Potential scenarios of equilibrium vegetation redistribution under 2 × CO2 climate from five different General Circulation Models (GCMs) are presented. In general, large spatial shifts in temperate and boreal vegetation are predicted under the different scenarios; while, tropical vegetation boundaries are predicted (with one exception) to experience minor distribution contractions. Maps of predicted changes in forest LAI imply drought-induced losses of biomass over most forested regions, even in the tropics. Regional patterns of forest decline and dieback are surprisingly consistent among the five GCM scenarios, given the general lack of consistency in predicted changes in regional precipitation patterns. Two factors contribute to the consistency among the GCMs of the regional ecological impacts of climatic change: 1) regional, temperature-induced increases in potential evapotranspiration (PET) tend to more than offset regional increases in precipitation; and, 2) the unchanging background interplay between the general circulation and the continental margins and mountain ranges produces a fairly stable pattern of regionally specific sensitivity to climatic change. Two areas exhibiting among the greatest sensitivity to drought-induced forest decline are eastern North America and eastern Europe to western Russia. Drought-induced vegetation decline (losses of LAI), predicted under all GCM scenarios, will release CO2 to the atmosphere; while, expansion of forests at high latitudes will sequester CO2. The imbalance in these two rate processes could produce a large, transient pulse of CO2 to the atmosphere.