Canadian Forest Service Publications

Traits to stay, traits to move: a review of functional traits to assess sensitivity and adaptive capacity of temperate and boreal trees to climate change. 2016. Aubin, I.; Munson, A.; Cardou, F.; Burton, P.; Isabel, N.; Pedlar, J.; Pacquette, A.; Taylor, A.R.; Delagrange, H.; Kebli, C.; Messier, B.; Shipley, F.; Valladares, J.; Kattge, J.; Boisvert-Marsh, L. McKenney, D. Environmental Reviews 24:1-23.

Year: 2016

Issued by: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 36361

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1139/er-2015-0072

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The integration of functional traits into vulnerability assessments is a promising approach to quantitatively capture differences in species sensitivity and adaptive capacity to climate change, allowing the refinement of tree species distribution models. In response to a clear need to identify traits that are responsive to climate change and applicable in a management context, we review the state of knowledge of the main mechanisms, and their associated traits, that underpin the ability of boreal and temperate tree species to persist and (or) shift their distribution in a changing climate. We aimed to determine whether current knowledge is sufficiently mature and available to be used effectively in vulnerability assessments. Marshalling recent conceptual advances and assessing data availability, our ultimate objective is to guide modellers and practitioners in finding and selecting sets of traits that can be used to capture differences in species’ ability to persist and migrate. While the physiological mechanisms that determine sensitivity to climate change are relatively well understood (e.g., drought-induced cavitation), many associated traits have not been systematically documented for North American trees and differences in methodology preclude their widespread integration into vulnerability assessments (e.g., xylem recovery capacity). In contrast, traits traditionally associated with the ability to migrate and withstand fire are generally well documented, but new key traits are emerging in the context of climate change that have not been as well characterized (e.g., age of optimum seed production). More generally, lack of knowledge surrounding the extent and patterns in intraspecific trait variation, as well as co-variation and interaction among traits, limit our ability to use this approach to assess tree adaptive capacity. We conclude by outlining research needs and potential strategies for the development of trait-based knowledge applicable in large-scale modelling efforts, sketching out important aspects of trait data organization that should be part of a coordinated effort by the forest science community.

Plain Language Summary

This paper summarizes what is known about characteristics of boreal and temperate forest trees in relation to how they respond to climate change. Tree species could respond in three ways: 1) they can tolerate new conditions, 2) adapt to new conditions or 3) “move” to a new location. We describe key characteristics that could be affected by climate-induced changes to water availability, temperature, CO2 and disturbance regime and how it relates to the three described outcomes. While we have good information for commercial tree species, we lack knowledge about characteristics for large numbers of species and how those characteristics could interact. This information is critical for practitioners and modellers to conduct vulnerability assessments. We call on scientists across forest science disciplines to develop new standards for data collection, documentation, aggregation and sharing so that full use can be made in such assessments.