Recovery dynamics and climate change effects to future New England forests

Abstract

Context

Forests throughout eastern North America continue to recover from broad-scale intensive land use that peaked in the nineteenth century. These forests provide essential goods and services at local to global scales. It is uncertain how recovery dynamics, the processes by which forests respond to past forest land use, will continue to influence future forest conditions. Climate change compounds this uncertainty.

Objectives

We explored how continued forest recovery dynamics affect forest biomass and species composition and how climate change may alter this trajectory.

Methods

Using a spatially explicit landscape simulation model incorporating an ecophysiological model, we simulated forest processes in New England from 2010 to 2110. We compared forest biomass and composition from simulations that used a continuation of the current climate to those from four separate global circulation models forced by a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5).

Results

Simulated forest change in New England was driven by continued recovery dynamics; without the influence of climate change forests accumulated 34 % more biomass and succeed to more shade tolerant species; Climate change resulted in 82 % more biomass but just nominal shifts in community composition. Most tree species increased AGB under climate change.

Conclusions

Continued recovery dynamics will have larger impacts than climate change on forest composition in New England. The large increases in biomass simulated under all climate scenarios suggest that climate regulation provided by the eastern forest carbon sink has potential to continue for at least a century.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research Program (Grant No. NSF-DEB 12-37491) and the Scenarios Society and Solutions Research Coordination Network (Grant No. NSF-DEB-13-38809). Additional funding was provided by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 105321 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Purdue University. We thank David Foster and two anonymous reviewers that helped improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Matthew J. Duveneck.

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Duveneck, M.J., Thompson, J.R., Gustafson, E.J. et al. Recovery dynamics and climate change effects to future New England forests. Landscape Ecol 32, 1385–1397 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0415-5

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Keywords

  • New England
  • Recovery dynamics
  • Climate change
  • LANDIS-II
  • Forests