Climate change impacts on forest landscapes along the Canadian southern boreal forest transition zone
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Forest landscapes at the southern boreal forest transition zone are likely to undergo great alterations due to projected changes in regional climate.
We projected changes in forest landscapes resulting from four climate scenarios (baseline, RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5), by simulating changes in tree growth and disturbances at the southern edge of Canada’s boreal zone.
Projections were performed for four regions located on an east–west gradient using a forest landscape model (LANDIS-II) parameterized using a forest patch model (PICUS).
Climate-induced changes in the competitiveness of dominant tree species due to changes in potential growth, and substantial intensification of the fire regime, appear likely to combine in driving major changes in boreal forest landscapes. Resulting cumulative impacts on forest ecosystems would be manifold but key changes would include (i) a strong decrease in the biomass of the dominant boreal species, especially mid- to late-successional conifers; (ii) increases in abundance of some temperate species able to colonize disturbed areas in a warmer climate; (iii) increases in the proportions of pioneer and fire-adapted species in these landscapes and (iv) an overall decrease in productivity and total biomass. The greatest changes would occur under the RCP 8.5 radiative forcing scenario, but some impacts can be expected even with RCP 2.6.
Western boreal forests, i.e., those bordering the prairies, are the most vulnerable because of a lack of species adapted to warmer climates and major increases in areas burned. Conservation and forest management planning within the southern boreal transition zone should consider both disturbance- and climate-induced changes in forest communities.
KeywordsClimate change LANDIS-II PICUS Boreal forest Canada
Special thanks go to Hong He, Jacob Fraser, WenJi Wang, Brice Hanberry, Brian Miranda and Robert Scheller for their help regarding the LANDIS-II model. We thank Manfred J. Lexer for kindly providing us access and assistance with the use of their model, PICUS. We would also like to thank Philippe Villemaire for his GIS support and Pamela Cheers for revising the wording. This study was funded by Natural Resources Canada. Brad Pinno and two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
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