Uncertainties in the response of a forest landscape to global climatic change


George Z. Gertner, e-mail: gertner@vivc.edu


Many studies have been conducted to quantify the possible ecosystem/landscape response to the anticipated global warming. However, there is a large amount of uncertainty in the future climate predictions used for these studies. Specifically, the climate predictions can be very different based on a variety of global climate models and alternative greenhouse emission scenarios. In this study, we coupled a forest landscape model, LANDIS-II, and a forest process model, PnET-II, to examine the uncertainty (that results from the uncertainty in the future climate predictions) in the forest-type composition prediction for a transitional forest landscape [the Boundary Water Canoe Area]. Using an improved global-sensitivity analysis technique [Fourier amplitude sensitivity test], we also quantified the amount of uncertainty in the forest-type composition prediction contributed by different climate variables including temperature, CO2, precipitation and photosynthetic active radiation (PAR). The forest landscape response was simulated for the period 2000–2400 ad based on the differential responses of 13 tree species under an ensemble of 27 possible climate prediction profiles (monthly time series of climate variables). Our simulations indicate that the uncertainty in the forest-type composition becomes very high after 2200 ad, which is close to the time when the current forests are largely removed by windthrow disturbances and natural mortality. The most important source of uncertainty in the forest-type composition prediction is from the uncertainty in temperature predictions. The second most important source is PAR, the third is CO2 and the least important is precipitation. Our results also show that if the optimum photosynthetic temperature rises due to CO2 enrichment, the forest landscape response to climatic change measured by forest-type composition may be substantially reduced.