EPSCoR - Alaska Adapting to Changing Environments
Spatial and topographic trends in forest expansion and biomass change, from regional to local scales
Natural forest growth and expansion are important carbon sequestration processes globally. Climate change is likely to increase forest growth in some regions via CO2 fertilization, increased temperatures, and altered precipitation; however, altered disturbance regimes and climate stress (e.g. drought) will act to reduce carbon stocks in forests as well. Observations of asynchrony in forest change is useful in determining current trends in forest carbon stocks, both in terms of forest density (e.g. Mg ha−1) and spatially (extent and location). Monitoring change in natural (unmanaged) areas is particularly useful, as while afforestation and recovery from historic land use are currently large carbon sinks, the long-term viability of those sinks depends on climate change and disturbance dynamics at their particular location. We utilize a large, unmanaged biome (>135 000 km2) which spans a broad latitudinal gradient to explore how variation in location affects forest density and spatial patterning: the forests of the North American temperate rainforests in Alaska, which store >2.8 Pg C in biomass and soil, equivalent to >8% of the C in contiguous US forests. We demonstrate that the regional biome is shifting; gains exceed losses and are located in different spatio-topographic contexts. Forest gains are concentrated on northerly aspects, lower elevations, and higher latitudes, especially in sheltered areas, whereas loss is skewed toward southerly aspects and lower latitudes. Repeat plot-scale biomass data (n = 759) indicate that within-forest biomass gains outpace losses (live trees >12.7 cm diameter, 986 Gg yr−1) on gentler slopes and in higher latitudes. This work demonstrates that while temperate rainforest dynamics occur at fine spatial scales (<1000 m2), the net result of thousands of individual events is regionally patterned change. Correlations between the disturbance/establishment imbalance and biomass accumulation suggest the potential for relatively rapid biome shifts and biomass changes.
Data and Resources
Data Types: Report