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Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 116, Issue 1–2, pp 151–197 | Cite as

Forest Health in North America: Some perspectives on Actual and Potential Roles of Climate and Air Pollution

  • S. McLaughlin
  • K. Percy
Article

Abstract

The perceived health of forest ecosystems over large temporal and spatial scales can be strongly influenced by the frames of reference chosen to evaluate both forest condition and the functional integrity of sustaining forest processes. North American forests are diverse in range, species composition, past disturbance history, and current management practices. Therefore the implications of changes in environmental stress from atmospheric pollution and/or global climate change on health of these forests will vary widely across the landscape. Forest health surveys that focus on the average forest condition may do a credible job of representing the near-term trends in economic value while failing to detect fundamental changes in the processes by which these values are sustained over the longer term. Indications of increased levels of environmental stress on forest growth and nutrient cycles are currently apparent in several forest types in North America. Measurements of forest ecophysiological responses to air pollutants in integrated case studies with four forest types (southern pine, western pine, high elevation red spruce, and northeastern hardwoods) indicate that ambient levels of ozone and/or acidic deposition can alter basic processes of water, carbon, and nutrient allocation by forest trees. These changes then provide a mechanistic basis for pollutant stress to enhance a wider range of natural stresses that also affect and are affected by these resources. Future climatic changes may ameliorate (+ CO2) or axacerbate (+ temperature, + UV-B) these effects. Current projections of forest responses to global climate change do not consider important physiological changes induced by air pollutants that may amplify climatic stresses. These include reduced rooting mass, depth, and function, increased respiration, and reduced water use efficiency. Monitoring and understanding the relative roles of natural and anthropogenic stress in influencing future forest health will require programs that are structured to evaluate responses at appropriate frequencies across gradients in both forest resources and the stresses that influence them. Such programs must also be accompanied by supplemental process -oriented and pattern -oriented investigations that more thoroughly test cause and effect relationships among stresses and responses of both forests and the biogeochemical cycles that sustain them.

air quality Physiology growth biotic and abiotic interactions 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. McLaughlin
    • 1
  • K. Percy
    • 2
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  2. 2.Atlantic Forestry CentreNatural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest ServiceFredericton, N.B.Canada

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