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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • climate change impacts;
  • forest growth;
  • forest productivity;
  • forest vegetation;
  • review of changes in forests

Abstract

Changes to forest production drivers (light, water, temperature, and site nutrient) over the last 55 years have been documented in peer-reviewed literature. The main objective of this paper is to review documented evidence of the impacts of climate change trends on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century. We first present a concise overview of the climate controls of forest production, provide evidence of how the main controls have changed in the last 55 years, followed by a core section outlining our findings of observed and documented impacts on forest productivity and a brief discussion of the complications of interpreting trends in net primary production (NPP). At finer spatial scales, a trend is difficult to decipher, but globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity when water was not limiting. Of the 49 papers reporting forest production levels we reviewed, 37 showed a positive growth trend, five a negative trend, three reported both a positive and a negative trend for different time periods, one reported a positive and no trend for different geographic areas, and two reported no trend. Forests occupy ≈52% of the Earth's land surface and tend to occupy more temperature and radiation-limited environments. Less than 7% of forests are in strongly water-limited systems. The combined and interacting effects of temperature, radiation, and precipitation changes with the positive effect of CO2, the negative effects of O3 and other pollutants, and the presently positive effects of N will not be elucidated with experimental manipulation of one or a few factors at a time. Assessments of the greening of the biosphere depend on both accurate measurements of rates (net ecosystem exchange, NPP), how much is stored at the ecosystem level (net ecosystem production) and quantification of disturbances rates on final net biome production.