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Getting to the root of the matter: landscape implications of plant-fungal interactions for tree migration in Alaska

Abstract

Context

Forecasting the expansion of forest into Alaska tundra is critical to predicting regional ecosystem services, including climate feedbacks such as carbon storage. Controls over seedling establishment govern forest development and migration potential. Ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF), obligate symbionts of all Alaskan tree species, are particularly important to seedling establishment, yet their significance to landscape vegetation change is largely unknown.

Objective

We used ALFRESCO, a landscape model of wildfire and vegetation dynamics, to explore whether EMF inoculum potential influences patterns of tundra afforestation and associated flammability.

Methods

Using two downscaled CMIP3 general circulation models (ECHAM5 and CCCMA) and a mid-range emissions scenario (A1B) at a 1 km2 resolution, we compared simulated tundra afforestation rates and flammability from four parameterizations of EMF effects on seedling establishment and growth from 2000 to 2100.

Results

Modeling predicted an 8.8–18.2 % increase in forest cover from 2000 to 2100. Simulations that explicitly represented landscape variability in EMF inoculum potential showed a reduced percent change afforestation of up to a 2.8 % due to low inoculum potential limiting seedling growth. This reduction limited fuel availability and thus, cumulative area burned. Regardless of inclusion of EMF effects in simulations, landscape flammability was lower for simulations driven by the wetter and cooler CCCMA model than the warmer and drier ECHAM5 model, while tundra afforestation was greater.

Conclusions

Results suggest abiotic factors are the primary driver of tree migration. Simulations including EMF effects, a biotic factor, yielded more conservative estimates of land cover change across Alaska that better-matched empirical estimates from the previous century.

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Acknowledgments

The Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, the Alaska Climate Science Center, and the Joint Fire Science Graduate Research Innovation Award supported this research. We thank Shalane Frost for creating Figs. 4 and 7. The project described in this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number G10AC00588 from the United States Geological Survey. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USGS.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Rebecca E. Hewitt.

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Hewitt, R.E., Bennett, A.P., Breen, A.L. et al. Getting to the root of the matter: landscape implications of plant-fungal interactions for tree migration in Alaska. Landscape Ecol 31, 895–911 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-015-0306-1

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Keywords

  • Alaska
  • ALFRESCO
  • Climate change
  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi
  • Treeline
  • Wildfire