A global perspective of regional vegetation and hydrologic sensitivities from climatic change


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Abstract. A biogeographic model, MAPSS (Mapped Atmosphere-Plant-Soil System), predicts changes in vegetation leaf area index (LAI), site water balance and runoff, as well as changes in biome boundaries. Potential scenarios of global and regional equilibrium changes in LAI and terrestrial water balance under 2 x CO2 climate from five different general circulation models (GCMs) are presented. Regional patterns of vegetation change and annual runoff are surprisingly consistent among the five GCM scenarios, given the general lack of consistency in predicted changes in regional precipitation patterns. Two factors contribute to the consistency among the GCMs of the regional ecological impacts of climatic change: (1) regional, temperature-induced increases in potential evapo-transpiration (PET) tend to more than offset regional increases in precipitation; and (2) the interplay between the general circulation and the continental margins and mountain ranges produces a fairly stable pattern of regionally specific sensitivity to climatic change. Two areas exhibiting among the greatest sensitivity to drought-induced forest decline are eastern North America and eastern Europe to western Russia. Regional runoff patterns exhibit much greater spatial variation in the sign of the response than do the LAI changes, even though they are deterministically linked in the model. Uncertainties with respect to PET or vegetation water use efficiency calculations can alter the simulated sign of regional responses, but the relative responses of adjacent regions appear to be largely a function of the background climate, rather than the vagaries of the GCMs, and are intrinsic to the landscape. Thus, spatial uncertainty maps can be drawn even under the current generation of GCMs.