Aim Predictions of ecosystem responses to climate warming are often made using gap models, which are among the most effective tools for assessing the effects of climate change on forest composition and structure. Gap models do not generally account for broad-scale effects such as the spatial configuration of the simulated forest ecosystems, disturbance, and seed dispersal, which extend beyond the simulation plots and are important under changing climates. In this study we incorporate the broad-scale spatial effects (spatial configurations of the simulated forest ecosystems, seed dispersal and fire disturbance) in simulating forest responses to climate warming. We chose the Changbai Natural Reserve in China as our study area. Our aim is to reveal the spatial effects in simulating forest responses to climate warming and make new predictions by incorporating these effects in the Changbai Natural Reserve.
Location Changbai Natural Reserve, north-eastern China.
Method We used a coupled modelling approach that links a gap model with a spatially explicit landscape model. In our approach, the responses (establishment) of individual species to climate warming are simulated using a gap model (linkages) that has been utilized previously for making predictions in this region; and the spatial effects are simulated using a landscape model (LANDIS) that incorporates spatial configurations of the simulated forest ecosystems, seed dispersal and fire disturbance. We used the recent predictions of the Canadian Global Coupled Model (CGCM2) for the Changbai Mountain area (4.6 °C average annual temperature increase and little precipitation change). For the area encompassed by the simulation, we examined four major ecosystems distributed continuously from low to high elevations along the northern slope: hardwood forest, mixed Korean pine hardwood forest, spruce-fir forest, and sub-alpine forest.
Results The dominant effects of climate warming were evident on forest ecosystems in the low and high elevation areas, but not in the mid-elevation areas. This suggests that the forest ecosystems near the southern and northern ranges of their distributions will have the strongest response to climate warming. In the mid-elevation areas, environmental controls exerted the dominant influence on the dynamics of these forests (e.g. spruce-fir) and their resilience to climate warming was suggested by the fact that the fluctuations of species trajectories for these forests under the warming scenario paralleled those under the current climate scenario.
Main conclusions With the spatial effects incorporated, the disappearance of tree species in this region due to the climate warming would not be expected within the 300-year period covered by the simulation. Neither Korean pine nor spruce-fir was completely replaced by broadleaf species during the simulation period. Even for the sub-alpine forest, mountain birch did not become extinct under the climate warming scenario, although its occurrence was greatly reduced. However, the decreasing trends characterizing Korean pine, spruce, and fir indicate that in simulations beyond 300 years these species could eventually be replaced by broadleaf tree species. A complete forest transition would take much longer than the time periods predicted by the gap models.