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Evidence and implications of recent and projected climate change in Alaska’s forest ecosystems

TitleEvidence and implications of recent and projected climate change in Alaska’s forest ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWolken, JM, Hollingsworth, TN, T. Rupp, S, Chapin III, SF, Trainor, SF, Barrett, TM, Sullilvan, PF, McGuire, DA, Euskirchen, ES, Hennon, PE, Beever, EA, Conn, JS, Crone, LK, D’Amore, DV, Fresco, N, Hanley, TA, Kielland, K, Kruse, JJ, Patterson, T, Schuur, EAG, Verbyla, DL, Yaire, J

The structure and function of Alaska’s forests have changed significantly in response to achanging climate, including alterations in species composition and climate feedbacks (e.g., carbon,radiation budgets) that have important regional societal consequences and human feedbacks to forestecosystems. In this paper we present the first comprehensive synthesis of climate-change impacts on allforested ecosystems of Alaska, highlighting changes in the most critical biophysical factors of each region.We developed a conceptual framework describing climate drivers, biophysical factors and types of changeto illustrate how the biophysical and social subsystems of Alaskan forests interact and respond directly andindirectly to a changing climate.We then identify the regional and global implications to the climate systemand associated socio-economic impacts, as presented in the current literature. Projections of temperatureand precipitation suggest wildfire will continue to be the dominant biophysical factor in the Interior-borealforest, leading to shifts from conifer- to deciduous-dominated forests. Based on existing research, projectedincreases in temperature in the Southcentral- and Kenai-boreal forests will likely increase the frequency andseverity of insect outbreaks and associated wildfires, and increase the probability of establishment byinvasive plant species. In the Coastal-temperate forest region snow and ice is regarded as the dominantbiophysical factor. With continued warming, hydrologic changes related to more rapidly melting glaciersand rising elevation of the winter snowline will alter discharge in many rivers, which will have important consequences for terrestrial and marine ecosystem productivity. These climate-related changes will affectplant species distribution and wildlife habitat, which have regional societal consequences, and trace-gasemissions and radiation budgets, which are globally important. Our conceptual framework facilitatesassessment of current and future consequences of a changing climate, emphasizes regional differences inbiophysical factors, and points to linkages that may exist but that currently lack supporting research. Theframework also serves as a visual tool for resource managers and policy makers to develop regional andglobal management strategies and to inform policies related to climate mitigation and adaptation.