Sensitivity of Siberian larch forests to climate change

  • Shuman J
  • Shugart H
  • O'Halloran T
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The Northern Hemisphere's boreal forests, particularly the Siberian boreal forest, may have a strong effect on Earth's climate through changes in dominant vegetation and associated regional surface albedo. We show that warmer climate will likely convert Siberia's deciduous larch (Larix spp.) to evergreen conifer forests, and thus decrease regional surface albedo. The dynamic vegetation model, FAREAST, simulates Russian boreal forest composition and was used to explore the feedback between climate change and forest composition at continental, regional, and local scales. FAREAST was used to simulate the impact of changes in temperature and precipitation on total and genus-level biomass at sites across Siberia and the Russian Far East (RFE), and for six high- and low-diversity regions. Model runs with and without European Larch (Larix decidua) included in the available species pool were compared to assess the potential for this species, which is adapted to warmer climate conditions, to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially the shift to evergreen dominance. At the continental scale, when temperature is increased, larch-dominated sites become vulnerable to early replacement by evergreen conifers. At the regional and local scales, the diverse Amur region of the RFE does not show a strong response to climate change, but the low-diversity regions in central and southern Siberia have an abrupt vegetation shift from larch-dominated forest to evergreen-conifer forest in response to increased temperatures. The introduction of L. decidua prevents the collapse of larch in these low-diversity areas and thus mitigates the response to warming. Using contemporary MODIS albedo measurements, we determined that a conversion from larch to evergreen stands in low-diversity regions of southern Siberia would generate a local positive radiative forcing of 5.1±2.6 W m−2. This radiative heating would reinforce the warming projected to occur in the area under climate change.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Albedo
  • Boreal forest
  • Climate change
  • Diversity
  • Model

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  • Jacquelyn Kremper Shuman

  • Herman Henry Shugart

  • Thomas Liam O'Halloran

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