Harvesting interacts with climate change to affect future habitat quality of a focal species in eastern Canada's boreal forest

PLoS One. 2018 Feb 7;13(2):e0191645. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191645. eCollection 2018.


Many studies project future bird ranges by relying on correlative species distribution models. Such models do not usually represent important processes explicitly related to climate change and harvesting, which limits their potential for predicting and understanding the future of boreal bird assemblages at the landscape scale. In this study, we attempted to assess the cumulative and specific impacts of both harvesting and climate-induced changes on wildfires and stand-level processes (e.g., reproduction, growth) in the boreal forest of eastern Canada. The projected changes in these landscape- and stand-scale processes (referred to as "drivers of change") were then assessed for their impacts on future habitats and potential productivity of black-backed woodpecker (BBWO; Picoides arcticus), a focal species representative of deadwood and old-growth biodiversity in eastern Canada. Forest attributes were simulated using a forest landscape model, LANDIS-II, and were used to infer future landscape suitability to BBWO under three anthropogenic climate forcing scenarios (RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5), compared to the historical baseline. We found climate change is likely to be detrimental for BBWO, with up to 92% decline in potential productivity under the worst-case climate forcing scenario (RCP 8.5). However, large declines were also projected under baseline climate, underlining the importance of harvest in determining future BBWO productivity. Present-day harvesting practices were the single most important cause of declining areas of old-growth coniferous forest, and hence appeared as the single most important driver of future BBWO productivity, regardless of the climate scenario. Climate-induced increases in fire activity would further promote young, deciduous stands at the expense of old-growth coniferous stands. This suggests that the biodiversity associated with deadwood and old-growth boreal forests may be greatly altered by the cumulative impacts of natural and anthropogenic disturbances under a changing climate. Management adaptations, including reduced harvesting levels and strategies to promote coniferous species content, may help mitigate these cumulative impacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Canada
  • Climate Change*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests*
  • Species Specificity

Grant support

This study was funded by the Environment and Climate change Canada, and Natural Resource Canada. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.