A spatially interactive simulation of climate change, harvesting, wind, and tree species migration and projected changes to forest composition and biomass in northern Wisconsin, USA


Robert M. Scheller, e-mail: rmscheller@wisc.edu


In the coming century, forecast climate changes caused by increasing greenhouse gases may produce dramatic shifts in tree species distributions and the rates at which individual tree species sequester carbon or release carbon back to the atmosphere. The species composition and carbon storage capacity of northern Wisconsin (USA) forests are expected to change significantly as a result. Projected temperature changes are relatively large (up to a 5.8°C increase in mean annual temperature) and these forests encompass a broad ecotone that may be particularly sensitive to climate change. Our objective was to estimate the combined effects of climate change, common disturbances, and species migrations on regional forests using spatially interactive simulations. Multiple scenarios were simulated for 200 years to estimate aboveground live biomass and tree species composition. We used a spatially interactive forest landscape model (LANDIS-II) that includes individual tree species, biomass accumulation and decomposition, windthrow, harvesting, and seed dispersal. We used data from two global circulation models, the Hadley Climate Centre (version 2) and the Canadian Climate Center (version 1) to generate transient growth and decomposition parameters for 23 species. The two climate change scenarios were compared with a control scenario of continuing current climate conditions. The results demonstrate how important spatially interactive processes will affect the aboveground live biomass and species composition of northern Wisconsin forests. Forest composition, including species richness, is strongly affected by harvesting, windthrow, and climate change, although five northern species (Abies balsamea, Betula papyrifera, Picea glauca, Pinus banksiana, P. resinosa) are lost in both climate scenarios regardless of disturbance scenario. Changes in aboveground live biomass over time are nonlinear and vary among ecoregions. Aboveground live biomass will be significantly reduced because of species dispersal and migration limitations. The expected shift towards southern oaks and hickory is delayed because of seed dispersal limitations.