Modelling potential impacts of climate change on the spatial distribution of zonal forest communities in Switzerland



Abstract. A spatially explicit, climate-sensitive vegetation model is presented to simulate both present and future distribution of potential natural vegetation types in Switzerland at the level of zonal forest communities. The model has two versions: (1) a ‘basic’ version using geographical region, aspect, bedrock (represented by soil pH), and elevation, and (2) a ‘climate-sensitive’ version obtained by replacing elevation (complex environmental gradient) with temperature (climatic factor). Version 2 is used to predict vegetation response under different (today's and projected) climatic conditions.

Two regional climate scenarios are applied: (1) assuming an annual mean temperature increase of 1.1 — 1.4 °C, and (2) assuming an increase of 2.2 — 2.75 °C. Both scenarios result in significant changes of the spatial vegetation patterns as compared with today's climatic conditions. In scenario 1, ca. 33 % of the sample points remain unchanged in terms of the simulated zonal forest community; in scenario 2, virtually all sample points change. The most noticeable changes occur on the Swiss Plateau with Carpinion forests (zonal vegetation of present colline belt) expanding to areas that are occupied today by submontane and low-montane Fagus forests.

To estimate the reliability of the simulation, quantitative (comparison with field mapping) and qualitative (comparison with climate types in the Alpine region) tests are performed and the main limitations of the approach are evaluated.