Simulation Modeling of Complex Climate, Wildfire, and Vegetation Dynamics to Address Wicked Problems in Land Management

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Abstract

Complex, reciprocal interactions among climate, disturbance, and vegetation dramatically alter spatial landscape patterns and influence ecosystem dynamics. As climate and disturbance regimes shift, historical analogs and past empirical studies may not be entirely appropriate as templates for future management. The need for a better understanding of the potential impacts of climate changes on ecosystems is reaching a new level of urgency, especially in highly perturbed or vulnerable ecological systems. Simulation models are extremely useful tools for guiding management decisions in an era of rapid change, thus providing potential solutions for wicked problems in land management—those that are difficult to solve and inherently resistant to easily definable solutions. We identify three experimental approaches for landscape modeling that address management challenges in the context of uncertain climate futures and complex ecological interactions: (1) an historical comparative approach, (2) a future comparative approach, and (3) threshold detection. We provide examples of each approach from previously published studies of simulated climate, disturbance, and landscape dynamics in forested landscapes of the western United States, modeled with the FireBGCv2 ecosystem process model. Cumulatively, model outcomes indicate that typical land management strategies will likely not be sufficient to counteract the impacts of rapid climate change and altered disturbance regimes that threaten the stability of ecosystems. Without implementation of new, adaptive management strategies, future landscapes are very likely to be different than historical or contemporary ones, with significant and sometimes persistent changes triggered by interactions of climate and wildfire.

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Loehman, R. A., Keane, R. E., & Holsinger, L. M. (2020). Simulation Modeling of Complex Climate, Wildfire, and Vegetation Dynamics to Address Wicked Problems in Land Management. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2020.00003

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