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Resilience of Alaska’s boreal forest to climatic change

TitleResilience of Alaska’s boreal forest to climatic change
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsChapin III, SF, McGuire, DA, Ruess, RW, Hollingsworth, TN, Mack, M, Johnstone, JF, Kasischke, ES, Euskirchen, ES, Jones, JB, Jorgenson, MT, Kielland, K, Kofinas, GP, Turetsky, MR, Yarie, J, Lloyd, AH, D. Taylor, L
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research

This paper assesses the resilience of Alaska’s boreal forest system to rapid climatic change. Recent warming isassociated with reduced growth of dominant tree species, plant disease and insect outbreaks, warming and thawing ofpermafrost, drying of lakes, increased wildfire extent, increased postfire recruitment of deciduous trees, and reduced safetyof hunters traveling on river ice. These changes have modified key structural features, feedbacks, and interactions in theboreal forest, including reduced effects of upland permafrost on regional hydrology, expansion of boreal forest into tundra,and amplification of climate warming because of reduced albedo (shorter winter season) and carbon release from wildfires.Other temperature-sensitive processes for which no trends have been detected include composition of plant and microbialcommunities, long-term landscape-scale change in carbon stocks, stream discharge, mammalian population dynamics, andriver access and subsistence opportunities for rural indigenous communities. Projections of continued warming suggest thatAlaska’s boreal forest will undergo significant functional and structural changes within the next few decades that are unprecedentedin the last 6000 years. The impact of these social–ecological changes will depend in part on the extent oflandscape reorganization between uplands and lowlands and on policies regulating subsistence opportunities for rural communities.