Canadian Forest Service Publications

Tree vulnerability to climate change: improving exposure-based assessments using traits as indicators of sensitivity. 2018. Aubin, I.; Boisvert-Marsh, L.; Kebli, H.; McKenney, D.; Pedlar, J.; Lawrence, K.; Hogg, E.H.; Boulanger, Y.; Gauthier, S.; Ste-Marie, C. Ecosphere 9(2): article e02108.

Year: 2018

Available from: Great Lakes Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39062

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2108

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Abstract

Projected changes in climate conditions vary widely across Canada’s 350 M ha of forests, and so does the capacity of forest species to cope with these changes (sensitivity). Development and prioritization of adaptation strategies for sustainable forest management will depend on integrated assessments of relative stand vulnerability. We developed species-specific indices of sensitivity to (1) drought-induced mortality and (2) migration failure, based on traits for 22 of the most abundant tree species in Canada. By combining this information with stand composition data and spatially explicit climate change projections,we were able to map Canadian forest vulnerability to drought and migration failure. Our maps show forest vulnerability changing rapidly under a high carbon emission scenario (RCP 8.5) between short-(2011–2040), medium- (2041–2070), and long-term projections (2071–2100). Several zones of special concern emerged based on the biomass involved, stand sensitivity, and vulnerability trends across time. Boreal forests in the central regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan appeared most vulnerable to drought-induced mortality in the mid to long term. In the short term, distance to suitable habitat is projected to shift quickly along latitudinal gradients, particularly in Central Canada, while zones of vulnerability to migration failure appeared across the Rockies region in the long term as suitable conditions disappear from mountainous areas. This spatial assessment of vulnerability, which integrates species-specific sensitivity, highlights important regional contrasts between vulnerability to drought (from high exposure, high proportion of sensitive species, or both) and to migration failure. By affecting either species’ability to persist in place or to migrate, different climate change impacts can yield distinct biotic responses, with important implications for regional climate change adaptation strategies. Multi-faceted vulnerability assessments, integrating both exposure and sensitivity indices specific to expected impacts of climate change, have the potential to provide crucial information to managers. We discuss some of these implications, explore the current limitations of our approach, and suggest a path forward.

Plain Language Summary

Not all species will react equally in the face of rapid environmental change. A species’ vulnerability depends on the environmental change it will experience, its individual sensitivity to altered growing conditions, and its ability to cope. In the face of rapid climate change, vulnerability assessments based on potential climate scenarios are needed to inform forest adaptation strategies. We developed indices of sensitivity to (1) drought-induced mortality and (2) migration failure based on traits for 22 the most abundant tree species in Canada. By combining this information with tree composition data, yielding a measure of stand-level sensitivity for all species present, and climate change projections, we were able to map Canadian forest vulnerability to drought and migration failure. Our maps show forest vulnerability changing rapidly between short (2011-2040), medium (2041-2070) and long-term scenarios (2071-2100). Several zones of concern emerged based on high tree abundance, the sensitivity of trees present and potential exposure to change, highlighting important regional contrasts between vulnerability to drought mortality (in central Alberta and Saskatchewan) or to migration failure (across the Rockies). Different climate change impacts can yield distinct species’ responses depending if they can persist in place or migrate. This has important implications for regional climate change adaptation strategies and provides crucial information to managers.

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