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Keywords:

  • Fire;
  • Forest;
  • Global warming;
  • Grassland;
  • Hurricane;
  • Longleaf pine;
  • Lotka-Volterra model;
  • Pinus palustris

Abstract

Global warming can potentially influence ecological communities through altered disturbance regimes in addition to increased temperatures. We investigate the response of pine savannas in the southeastern United States to global warming using a simple Lotka-Volterra competition model together with predicted changes to fire and hurricane disturbance regimes with global climate change. In the southeastern United States, decreased frequency of both fires and hurricanes with global warming will shift pine savannas toward a forested state. A CO2 fertilization effect that increases the growth rate of tree populations will also push southeastern landscapes from open savannas towards closed forests. Transient dynamics associated with climate driven changes in vegetation will last on the order of decades to a century. In our model, the sensitivity of savannas to relative changes in the frequency of fire versus hurricanes is linearly dependent on the growth rate and mortality of trees in fire and hurricane disturbances.