Observed responses of upland-oak vegetation of the eastern deciduous hardwood forest to changing CO2, temperature, precipitation and tropospheric ozone (O3) were derived from field studies and interpreted with a stand-level model for an 11-year range of environmental variation upon which scenarios of future environmental change were imposed. Scenarios for the year 2100 included elevated [CO2] and [O3] (+385 ppm and +20 ppb, respectively), warming (+4°C), and increased winter precipitation (+20% November–March). Simulations were run with and without adjustments for experimentally observed physiological and biomass adjustments.
Initial simplistic model runs for single-factor changes in CO2 and temperature predicted substantial increases (+191% or 508 g C m−2 yr−1) or decreases (−206% or −549 g C m−2 yr−1), respectively, in mean annual net ecosystem carbon exchange (NEEa≈266±23 g C m−2 yr−1 from 1993 to 2003). Conversely, single-factor changes in precipitation or O3 had comparatively small effects on NEEa (0% and −35%, respectively). The combined influence of all four environmental changes yielded a 29% reduction in mean annual NEEa. These results suggested that future CO2-induced enhancements of gross photosynthesis would be largely offset by temperature-induced increases in respiration, exacerbation of water deficits, and O3-induced reductions in photosynthesis. However, when experimentally observed physiological adjustments were included in the simulations (e.g. acclimation of leaf respiration to warming), the combined influence of the year 2100 scenario resulted in a 20% increase in NEEa not a decrease. Consistent with the annual model's predictions, simulations with a forest succession model run for gradually changing conditions from 2000 to 2100 indicated an 11% increase in stand wood biomass in the future compared with current conditions.
These model-based analyses identify critical areas of uncertainty for multivariate predictions of future ecosystem response, and underscore the importance of long term field experiments for the evaluation of acclimation and growth under complex environmental scenarios.