Losing Legacies, Ecological Release, and Transient Responses: Key Challenges for the Future of Northern Ecosystem Science

Abstract

Northern ecosystem processes play out across scales that are rare elsewhere on contemporary earth: large ranging predator–prey systems are still operational, invasive species are rare, and large-scale natural disturbances occur extensively. Disturbances in the far north affect huge areas of land and are difficult to control or manage. Historically, disturbance patterns and processes ranging across a number of spatio-temporal scales have played an important role in the resilience of northern ecosystems. However, due to interactions with a warming climate, these disturbances are now erasing key legacies of the last millennia of ecosystem processes. Building on the concepts of legacies and cross-scale interactions, we highlight several general conceptual issues that represent key challenges for the future of northern ecosystem science, but that also have relevance to other biomes.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The ideas presented here have benefited from discussions with many colleagues as well as funding programs that have promoted collaborative research in the north, including NASA’s Terrestrial Ecosystems ABoVE program, the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Environment and Natural Resources division, the NSERC Discovery program, the Bonanza Creek LTER program supported by the NSF and the U.S. Forest Service, the Changing Cold Regions Network support by NSERC, the Permafrost Carbon Network, and SEARCH’s Permafrost Action Team.

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Correspondence to Merritt R. Turetsky.

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All coauthors contributed to the development of ideas in this paper and to writing. Merritt R. Turetsky led the compilation of the paper. Jill F. Johnstone led the creation of the figure to highlight key issues raised in the paper.

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Turetsky, M.R., Baltzer, J.L., Johnstone, J.F. et al. Losing Legacies, Ecological Release, and Transient Responses: Key Challenges for the Future of Northern Ecosystem Science. Ecosystems 20, 23–30 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-0055-2

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Keywords

  • arctic
  • boreal
  • succession
  • disturbance
  • permafrost
  • wildfire
  • carbon
  • diversity
  • trophic interactions
  • niche