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. 2017 Mar 16;12(3):034027.
doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5ef1.

Are Forest Disturbances Amplifying or Canceling Out Climate Change-Induced Productivity Changes in European Forests?

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Are Forest Disturbances Amplifying or Canceling Out Climate Change-Induced Productivity Changes in European Forests?

Christopher P O Reyer et al. Environ Res Lett. .
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Recent studies projecting future climate change impacts on forests mainly consider either the effects of climate change on productivity or on disturbances. However, productivity and disturbances are intrinsically linked because 1) disturbances directly affect forest productivity (e.g. via a reduction in leaf area, growing stock or resource-use efficiency), and 2) disturbance susceptibility is often coupled to a certain development phase of the forest with productivity determining the time a forest is in this specific phase of susceptibility. The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of forest productivity changes in different forest regions in Europe under climate change, and partition these changes into effects induced by climate change alone and by climate change and disturbances. We present projections of climate change impacts on forest productivity from state-of-the-art forest models that dynamically simulate forest productivity and the effects of the main European disturbance agents (fire, storm, insects), driven by the same climate scenario in seven forest case studies along a large climatic gradient throughout Europe. Our study shows that, in most cases, including disturbances in the simulations exaggerate ongoing productivity declines or cancel out productivity gains in response to climate change. In fewer cases, disturbances also increase productivity or buffer climate-change induced productivity losses, e.g. because low severity fires can alleviate resource competition and increase fertilization. Even though our results cannot simply be extrapolated to other types of forests and disturbances, we argue that it is necessary to interpret climate change-induced productivity and disturbance changes jointly to capture the full range of climate change impacts on forests and to plan adaptation measures.

Keywords: fire; forest models; forest productivity-disturbances-climate change interactions; insects; storms; trade-offs.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Conceptual framework of interactions between climate change, forest productivity and forest disturbances. Solid, black arrows indicate direct effects; dashed arrows in gray indicate indirect effects mediated through effects on the state of the forests. P1–P8 refer to interaction pathways described in the text.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Relative climate change-induced productivity changes with (CDPC) and without (CPC) accounting for disturbances in different forest case studies in Europe. Legend details: 21st century = long-term average over the entire 21st century, Early 21st century = early 21st century average (ca 2000–2040), Middle 21st century = mid-21st century average (ca 2040–2070), Late 21st century = late 21st century average (ca 2070–2100). The exact dates vary slightly according to the different models and are listed in table SOM2. Symbols linked by lines indicate a temporal sequence of results. The horizontal and vertical lines indicate ‘no change’ and the diagonal line is a 1:1 line. Points above the 1:1 line indicate increased productivity as a result of disturbance, while points below it illustrate cases where disturbances decrease productivity.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Difference of productivity change induced by climate change and disturbances (CDPC) and climate change only induced productivity changes (CPC) over climate change only induced productivity changes (CPC) for the longest available simulations in each forest case study. Note that the data for Prades and North Wales are the average over the forests stands as shown in table SOM2.

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