Long-term Perspectives on Lagged Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change: Permafrost in Boreal Peatlands and the Grassland/Woodland Boundary
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Changes in climate could have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation, such as boreal permafrost peatlands and grassland/woodland boundaries. The long-term data from our studies in these ecosystems suggest that transient responses of permafrost and vegetation to climate change may be difficult to predict due to lags and positive feedbacks related to vegetation and disturbance. Boreal permafrost peatlands comprise an ecosystem with strong local controls on microclimate that influence the formation and thaw of permafrost. These local controls may preserve permafrost during the transient stages of climate warming, producing lagged responses. The prairie–forest border region of the northern Great Plains has experienced frequent change and has complex dynamics involving transitions in the grassland composition of prairie and in the degree of woodiness in bordering forests. Fire frequency interacts with fuel loading and tree recruitment in ways that affect the timing and direction of change. Lags and thresholds could lead to sudden large responses to future climate change that are not readily apparent from current vegetation. The creation of adequate models to characterize transient ecosystem changes will require an understanding of the linkages among processes operating at the scale of 10s of meters and over long time periods.
Key wordsclimate change permafrost boreal peatlands grassland/woodland boundary northern Great Plains warming; buffering lagged responses.
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