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Interactions between climate change, competition, dispersal, and disturbances in a tree migration model


Potentially significant shifts in the geographical patterns of vegetation are an expected result of climate change. However, the importance of local processes (e.g., dispersal, competition, or disturbance) has been often ignored in climate change modeling. We develop an individual-based simulation approach to assess how these mechanisms affect migration rate. We simulate the northward progression of a theoretical tree species when climate change makes northern habitat suitable. We test how the rate of progression is affected by (1) competition with a resident species, (2) interactions with disturbance regimes, (3) species dispersal kernel, and (4) the intensity of climate change over time. Results reveal a strong response of species’ expansion rate to the presence of a local competitor, as well as nonlinear effects of disturbance. We discuss these results in light of current knowledge of northern forest dynamics and results found in the climatic research literature.

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We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (M.A. and C.B.), Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Ministry for Research and Innovation, Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, the Canada Research Chairs program (M.A.) and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Paul Caplat.

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Caplat, P., Anand, M. & Bauch, C. Interactions between climate change, competition, dispersal, and disturbances in a tree migration model. Theor Ecol 1, 209–220 (2008).

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  • Forest dynamics
  • Simulation model
  • Disturbance regime
  • Species range
  • Boreal forest
  • Tree colonization