Climate Change and...

Annotated Bibliography

Effects of Climate Change

Historical Range and Variability

R. E. Keane, L. M. Holsinger, R. A. Parsons, K. Gray (2008). Climate change effects on historical range and variability of two large landscapes in western Montana, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 254 (3): 375-389

ABSTRACT: Quantifying the historical range and variability of landscape composition and structure using simulation modeling is becoming an important means of assessing current landscape condition and prioritizing landscapes for ecosystem restoration. However, most simulated time series are generated using static climate conditions which fail to account for the predicted major changes in future climate. This paper presents a simulation study that generates reference landscape compositions for all combinations of three climate scenarios (warm-wet, hot-dry, and current) and three fire regime scenarios (half historical, historical, and double historical fire frequencies) to determine if future climate change has an effect on landscape dynamics. We applied the spatially explicit, state-and-transition, landscape fire succession model LANDSUM to two large landscapes in west-central Montana, USA. LANDSUM was parameterized and initialized using spatial data generated from the LANDFIRE prototype project. Biophysical settings, critical spatial inputs to LANDSUM, were empirically modeled across the landscape using environmental gradients created from historical and modeled future climate daily weather data summaries. Successional pathways and disturbance probabilities were assigned to these biophysical settings based on existing field data and extensive literature reviews. To assess the impact of changes in climate and fire regime, we compared simulated area burned and landscape composition over time among the different simulation scenario combinations using response variables of Sorenson's index (a global measure of similarity) and area occupied by the dominant vegetation class (simple indicator of change in landscape composition). Results show that simulated time series using future predicted climate scenarios are significantly different from the simulated historical time series and any changes in the fire regime tend to create more dissimilar and more variable simulated time series. Our study results indicate that historical time series should be used in conjunction with simulated future time series as references for managing landscapes.

J.T. Overpeck, D. Rind, R. Goldberg (1990). Climate-induced changes in forest disturbance and vegetation. Nature 343 (4 January): 51-53

ABSTRACT: Recent concern over the ecological effects of future trace-gas-induced climate change has accelerated efforts to understand and quantify climate-induced vegetation change1–9 . Here we discuss new and published climate-model results indicating that global warming favours increased rates of forest disturbance, as a result of weather more likely to cause forest fires (drought, wind and natural ignition sources), convective wind storms, coastal flooding and hurricanes. New sensitivity tests carried out with a vegetation model indicate that climate-induced increases in disturbance could, in turn, significantly alter the total biomass and compositional response of forests to future warming. An increase in disturbance frequency is also likely to increase the rate at which natural vegetation responds to future climate change. Our results reinforce the hypothesis6 that forests could be significantly altered by the first part of the next century. Our modelling also confirms the potential utility of selected time series of fossil pollen data for investigating the poorly understood natural patterns of century-scale climate variability.

J. Timilsena, T. C. Piechota, H. Hidalgo, G. Tootle (2007). Five hundred years of hydrological drought in the upper Colorado River Basin. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 43 (3): 798-812

ABSTRACT: This article evaluates drought scenarios of the Upper Colorado River basin (UCRB) considering multiple drought variables for the past 500 years and positions the current drought in terms of the magnitude and frequency. Drought characteristics were developed considering water-year data of UCRB’s streamflow, and basin-wide averages of the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) and the Palmer Z Index. Streamflow and drought indices were reconstructed for the last 500 years using a principal component regression model based on tree-ring data. The reconstructed streamflow showed higher variability as compared with reconstructed PHDI and reconstructed Palmer Z Index. The magnitude and severity of all droughts were obtained for the last 500 years for historical and reconstructed drought variables and ranked accordingly. The frequency of the current drought was obtained by considering two different drought frequency statistical approaches and three different methods of determining the beginning and end of the drought period (annual, 5-year moving, and ten year moving average). It was concluded that the current drought is the worst in the observed record period (1923-2004), but 6th to 14th largest in terms of magnitude and 1st to 12th considering severity in the past 500 years. Similarly, the current drought has a return period ranging from 37 to 103 years based on how the drought period was determined. It was concluded that if the 10-year moving average is used for defining the drought period, the current drought appears less severe in terms of magnitude and severity in the last 500 years compared with the results using 1- and 5-year averages.

T. W. Swetnam, J. L. Betancourt (1998). Mesoscale disturbance and ecological response to decadal climatic variability in the American southwest. Journal of Climate 11 (12): 3128-3147

ABSTRACT: Ecological responses to climatic variability in the Southwest include regionally synchronized fires, insect outbreaks, and pulses in tree demography (births and deaths). Multicentury, tree-ring reconstructions of drought, disturbance history, and tree demography reveal climatic effects across scales, from annual to decadal, and from local (<102 km2 ) to mesoscale (104 –106 km2 ). Climate–disturbance relations are more variable and complex than previously assumed. During the past three centuries, mesoscale outbreaks of the western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis) were associated with wet, not dry episodes, contrary to conventional wisdom. Regional fires occur during extreme droughts but, in some ecosystems, antecedent wet conditions play a secondary role by regulating accumulation of fuels. Interdecadal changes in fire–climate associations parallel other evidence for shifts in the frequency or amplitude of the Southern Oscillation (SO) during the past three centuries. High interannual, fire–climate correlations (r = 0.7 to 0.9) during specific decades (i.e., circa 1740–80 and 1830–60) reflect periods of high amplitude in the SO and rapid switching from extreme wet to dry years in the Southwest, thereby entraining fire occurrence across the region. Weak correlations from 1780 to 1830 correspond with a decrease in SO frequency or amplitude inferred from independent tree-ring width, ice core, and coral isotope reconstructions.

Episodic dry and wet episodes have altered age structures and species composition of woodland and conifer forests. The scarcity of old, living conifers established before circa 1600 suggests that the extreme drought of 1575–95 had pervasive effects on tree populations. The most extreme drought of the past 400 years occurred in the mid–twentieth century (1942–57). This drought resulted in broadscale plant dieoffs in shrublands, woodlands, and forests and accelerated shrub invasion of grasslands. Drought conditions were broken by the post-1976 shift to the negative SO phase and wetter cool seasons in the Southwest. The post-1976 period shows up as an unprecedented surge in tree-ring growth within millennia-length chronologies. This unusual episode may have produced a pulse in tree recruitment and improved rangeland conditions (e.g., higher grass production), though additional study is needed to disentangle the interacting roles of land use and climate. The 1950s drought and the post-1976 wet period and their aftermaths offer natural experiments to study long-term ecosystem response to interdecadal climate variability.

Fall, P. L. (1997). Timberline fluctuations and late Quaternary paleoclimates in the Southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Geological Society of America Bulletin 109 (10): 1306-1320

ABSTRACT: Pollen and plant macrofossils from eight sedimentary basins on the west slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains document fluctuations in upper and lower timberline since the latest Pleistocene. By tracking climatically sensitive forest boundaries, the moisture-controlled lower timberline and the temperature-controlled upper timberline, paleoclimatic estimates can be derived from modern temperature and precipitation lapse rates. Pollen data suggest that prior to 11 000 yr B.P., a subalpine forest dominated byPicea (spruce) andPinus (pine) grew 300–700 m below its modern limit. The inferred climate was 2–5 °C cooler and had 7–16 cm greater precipitation than today.Abies (fir) increased in abundance in the subalpine forest around 11 000 yr B.P., probably in response to cooler conditions with increased winter snow. Pollen and plant macrofossil data demonstrate that from 9000 to 4000 yr B.P. the subalpine forest occupied a greater elevational range than it does today. Upper timberline was 270 m above its modern limit, suggesting that mean annual and mean July temperatures were 1–2 °C warmer than today. Intensification of the summer monsoon, coupled with increased summer radiation between 9000 and 6000 yr B.P., raised mean annual precipitation by 8–11 cm and allowed the lower limit of the subalpine and montane forests to descend to lower elevations. The lower forest border began to retreat upslope between 6000 and 4000 yr B.P. in response to drier conditions, and the upper timberline descended after 4000 yr B.P., when temperatures cooled to about 1 °C warmer than today. The modern climatic regime was established about 2000 yr B.P., when the summer precipitation maxima of the early and middle Holocene were balanced by increased winter precipitation.

Brunelle, A., C. Whitlock (2003). Postglacial fire, vegetation, and climate history in the Clearwater Range, Northern Idaho, USA. Quaternary Research 60 (3): 307-318

ABSTRACT: The environmental history of the Northern Rocky Mountains was reconstructed using lake sediments from Burnt Knob Lake, Idaho, and comparing the results with those from other previously published sites in the region to understand how vegetation and fire regimes responded to large-scale climate changes during the Holocene. Vegetation reconstructions indicate parkland or alpine meadow at the end of the glacial period indicating cold-dry conditions. From 14,000 to 12,000 cal yr B.P., abundant Pinus pollen suggests warmer, moister conditions than the previous period. Most sites record the development of a forest with Pseudotsuga ca. 9500 cal yr B.P. indicating warm dry climate coincident with the summer insolation maximum. As the amplification of the seasonal cycle of insolation waned during the middle Holocene, Pseudotsuga was replaced by Pinus and Abies suggesting cool, moist conditions. The fire reconstructions show less synchroneity. In general, the sites west of the continental divide display a fire-frequency maximum around 12,000–8000 cal yr B.P., which coincides with the interval of high summer insolation and stronger-than-present subtropical high. The sites on the east side of the continental divide have the highest fire frequency ca. 6000–3500 cal yr B.P. and may be responding to a decrease in summer precipitation as monsoonal circulation weakened in the middle and late Holocene. This study demonstrated that the fire frequency of the last two decades does not exceed the historical range of variability in that periods of even higher-than-present fire frequency occurred in the past.

C. E. Briles, C. Whitlock, P. J. Bartlein (2005). Postglacial vegetation, fire, and climate history of the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon, USA. Quaternary Research 64 (1): 44-56

ABSTRACT: The forests of the Siskiyou Mountains are among the most diverse in North America, yet the long-term relationship among climate, diversity, and natural disturbance is not well known. Pollen, plant macrofossils, and high-resolution charcoal data from Bolan Lake, Oregon, were analyzed to reconstruct a 17,000-yr-long environmental history of high-elevation forests in the region. In the late-glacial period, the presence of a subalpine parkland ofArtemisia , Poaceae,Pinus , andTsuga with infrequent fires suggests cool dry conditions. After 14,500 cal yr B.P., a closed forest ofAbies ,Pseudotsuga ,Tsuga , andAlnus rubra with more frequent fires developed which indicates more mesic conditions than before. An open woodland ofPinus ,Quercus , andCupressaceae , with higher fire activity than before, characterized the early Holocene and implies warmer and drier conditions than at present. In the late Holocene,Abies andPicea were more prevalent in the forest, suggesting a return to cool wet conditions, although fire-episode frequency remained relatively high. The modern forest ofAbies andPseudotsuga and the present-day fire regime developed ca. 2100 cal yr B.P. and indicates that conditions had become slightly drier than before. Sub-millennial-scale fluctuations in vegetation and fire activity suggest climatic variations during the Younger Dryas interval and within the early Holocene period. The timing of vegetation changes in the Bolan Lake record is similar to that of other sites in the Pacific Northwest and Klamath region, and indicates that local vegetation communities were responding to regional-scale climate changes. The record implies that climate-driven millennial- to centennial-scale vegetation and fire change should be considered when explaining the high floristic diversity observed at present in the Siskiyou Mountains.

C. I. Millar, W. B. Woolfenden (1999). The role of climate change in interpreting historical variability. Ecological Applications 9 (4): 1207-1216

ABSTRACT: Significant climate anomalies have characterized the last 1000 yr in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA. Two warm, dry periods of 150- and 200-yr duration occurred during AD 900–1350, which were followed by anomalously cold climates, known as the Little Ice Age, that lasted from AD 1400 to 1900. Climate in the last century has been significantly warmer. Regional biotic and physical response to these climatic periods occurred. Climate variability presents challenges when interpreting historical variability, including the need to accommodate climate effects when comparing current ecosystems to historical conditions, especially if comparisons are done to evaluate causes (e.g., human impacts) of differences, or to develop models for restoration of current ecosystems. Many historical studies focus on “presettlement” periods, which usually fall within the Little Ice Age. Thus, it should be assumed that ecosystems inferred for these historical periods responded to different climates than those at present, and management implications should be adjusted accordingly. The warmer centuries before the Little Ice Age may be a more appropriate analogue to the present, although no historic period is likely to be better as a model than an understanding of what conditions would be at present without intervention. Understanding the climate context of historical reconstruction studies, and adjusting implications to the present, should strengthen the value of historical variability research to management.

T. W. Swetnam, C.D. Allen, J. L. Betancourt (1999). Applied historical ecology: using the past to manage for the future. Ecological Applications 9 (4): 1189-1206

ABSTRACT: Applied historical ecology is the use of historical knowledge in the management of ecosystems. Historical perspectives increase our understanding of the dynamic nature of landscapes and provide a frame of reference for assessing modern patterns and processes. Historical records, however, are often too brief or fragmentary to be useful, or they are not obtainable for the process or structure of interest. Even where long historical time series can be assembled, selection of appropriate reference conditions may be complicated by the past influence of humans and the many potential reference conditions encompassed by nonequilibrium dynamics. These complications, however, do not lessen the value of history; rather they underscore the need for multiple, comparative histories from many locations for evaluating both cultural and natural causes of variability, as well as for characterizing the overall dynamical properties of ecosystems. Historical knowledge may not simplify the task of setting management goals and making decisions, but 20th century trends, such as increasingly severe wildfires, suggest that disregarding history can be perilous.

We describe examples from our research in the southwestern United States to illustrate some of the values and limitations of applied historical ecology. Paleoecological data from packrat middens and other natural archives have been useful for defining baseline conditions of vegetation communities, determining histories and rates of species range expansions and contractions, and discriminating between natural and cultural causes of environmental change. We describe a montane grassland restoration project in northern New Mexico that was justified and guided by an historical sequence of aerial photographs showing progressive tree invasion during the 20th century. Likewise, fire scar chronologies have been widely used to justify and guide fuel reduction and natural fire reintroduction in forests. A southwestern network of fire histories illustrates the power of aggregating historical time series across spatial scales. Regional fire patterns evident in these aggregations point to the key role of interannual lags in responses of fuels and fire regimes to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (wet/dry cycles), with important implications for long-range fire hazard forecasting. These examples of applied historical ecology emphasize that detection and explanation of historical trends and variability are essential to informed management.

Millar, C. I., W. B. Woolfenden (2000). Historical variability in ecosystem management. Past Global Changes 8 (3): 2-4

DESCRIPTION: As frontiers closed in North America’s wildlands during the late 20th Century, ecosystem management emerged as the guiding principle for many public land managing agencies. Mandates shifted from emphasis on resource extraction (timber, water, minerals) to ecosystem protection, and the concept of ecological sustainability became central. The mission statements of the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serivce, and U.S.National Park Service, for example, herald ecosystem sustainability – maintaining composition, structure, and process of a system – as key policy goals. Similarly, many conservation programs and non-governmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and The Wilderness Society embrace sustainability as a scientific foundation to conservation planning.

Whitlock, C. (1992). Vegetational and climatic history of the Pacific Northwest during the last 20,000 Years: implications for understanding present-day biodiversity. Northwest Environmental Journal 8 (1): 5-28

ABSTRACT: During the last 20,000 years, the world climate system has moved from a glacial state into the present interglaciation, known as the Holocene. In the course of the transition, the vast continental ice sheets disappeared, sea level rose worldwide, land and ocean surfaces warmed, and moisture became redistributed (Ruddiman and Wright 1987). These global events also set in motion a series of adjustments to regional climate that caused changes in vegetational composition, the formation of new plant communities, and shifts in the biogeographic range of particular species. The legacy of these events is the present diversity—species richness or number of taxa—of plants and their distribution on the landscape. Thus, a knowledge of the environmental history of a region is important in understanding present and future landscape change.

In the Pacific Northwest, the retreat of glacial ice created a landscape of stagnant ice and glacial meltwater debris in northern Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. This region was colonized by the biota that survived in the unglaciated region to the south, along the exposed coastal shelf, and in the highlands. What was the nature of vegetation in the unglaciated region? How did glacial-age communities respond as climates changed, deglaciated terrain became available, and new species entered the region? What environmental controls shaped the subsequent development of modern forests within both the glaciated and unglaciated regions? In what ways have present-day vegetation and plant communities in the Pacific Northwest been influenced by long-term changes in climate, substrate, biological interactions, and natural disturbance?

Present patterns of biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest represent the culmination of ecological, climatological, and geological processes spanning several time scales. Ecological research provides information on recent responses of vegetation to disturbance and rapid environmental change; the fossil record, however, offers complementary information by disclosing ways in which vegetation has responded to large-scale environmental perturbations in the past. The insights gained from paleoecology take on particular importance with the prospect of a 4-5° C warming in the next century as a result of increasing greenhouse gases (Houghton et al. 1990). To appreciate the changes in vegetation and plant communities that will ensue from a warming of this magnitude necessitates an examination of the paleoecologic record, and the limitations and assumptions associated with it.

The objective of this paper is to describe the vegetational and climatic history of the Pacific Northwest during the late-Quaternary period from 20 ka (kiloannum = 1,000 years before present) to the present day. My remarks are confined to Washington State and southern British Columbia, where the fossil record is richest and our understanding of the landscape history is most refined (Fig. 1). A broader discussion of the late-Quaternary vegetational history of the western United States (U.S.) can be found in review papers by Baker (1983), Heusser (1983), Mehringer (1985), Barnosky et al. (1987), and Thompson et al. (in press).

P. B. Landres, P. Morgan, F. J. Swanson (1999). Overview of the use of natural variability concepts in managing ecological systems. Ecological Applications 9 (4): 1179-1188

ABSTRACT: Natural resource managers have used natural variability concepts since the early 1960s and are increasingly relying on these concepts to maintain biological diversity, to restore ecosystems that have been severely altered, and as benchmarks for assessing anthropogenic change. Management use of natural variability relies on two concepts: that past conditions and processes provide context and guidance for managing ecological systems today, and that disturbance-driven spatial and temporal variability is a vital attribute of nearly all ecological systems. We review the use of these concepts for managing ecological systems and landscapes.

We conclude that natural variability concepts provide a framework for improved understanding of ecological systems and the changes occurring in these systems, as well as for evaluating the consequences of proposed management actions. Understanding the history of ecological systems (their past composition and structure, their spatial and temporal variability, and the principal processes that influenced them) helps managers set goals that are more likely to maintain and protect ecological systems and meet the social values desired for an area. Until we significantly improve our understanding of ecological systems, this knowledge of past ecosystem functioning is also one of the best means for predicting impacts to ecological systems today.

These concepts can also be misused. No a priori time period or spatial extent should be used in defining natural variability. Specific goals, site-specific field data, inferences derived from data collected elsewhere, simulation models, and explicitly stated value judgment all must drive selection of the relevant time period and spatial extent used in defining natural variability. Natural variability concepts offer an opportunity and a challenge for ecologists to provide relevant information and to collaborate with managers to improve the management of ecological systems.

M. M. Moore, W. W. Covington, Peter Z. Fulé (1999). Reference conditions and ecological restoration: a southwestern Ponderosa pine perspective. Ecologcial Applications 9 (4): 1266-1277

ABSTRACT: Ecological restoration is the process of reestablishing the structure and function of native ecosystems and developing mutually beneficial human–wildland interactions that are compatible with the evolutionary history of those systems. Restoration is based on an ecosystem’s reference conditions (or natural range of variability); the difference between reference conditions and contemporary conditions is used to assess the need for restorative treatments and to evaluate their success. Since ecosystems are highly complex and dynamic, it is not possible to describe comprehensively all possible attributes of reference conditions. Instead, ecosystem characteristics with essential roles in the evolutionary environment are chosen for detailed study. Key characteristics of structure, function, and disturbance—especially fire regimes in ponderosa pine ecosystems—are quantified as far as possible through dendroecological and paleoecological studies, historical evidence, and comparison to undisrupted sites. Ecological restoration treatments are designed to reverse recent, human-caused ecological degradation. Testing of restoration treatments at four sites in northern Arizona, USA, has shown promise, but the diverse context of management goals and constraints for Southwestern forest ecosystems means that appropriate applications of restoration techniques will probably differ in various settings.

P. Z. Fulé (2008). Does it make sense to restore wildland fire in changing climate?. Restoration Ecology 16 (4): 526-531

ABSTRACT: Forest restoration guided by historical reference conditions of fire regime, forest structure, and composition has been increasingly and successfully applied in fire-adapted forests of western North America. But because climate change is expected to alter vegetation distributions and foster severe disturbances, does it make sense to restore the ecological role of wildland fire through management burning and related activities such as tree thinning? I suggest that some site- and date-specific historical conditions may be less relevant, but reference conditions in the broad sense are still useful. Reference conditions encompass not only the recent past but also evolutionary history, reflecting the role of fire as a selective force over millennia. Taking a long-term functional view of historical reference conditions as the result of evolutionary processes can provide insights into past forest adaptations and migrations under various climates. As future climates change, historical reference data from lower, southerly, and drier sites may be useful in places that are higher, northerly, and currently wetter. Almost all models suggest that the future will have substantial increases in wildfire occurrence, but prior to recent human-caused fire exclusion, fire-adapted pine forests of western North America were among the most frequently burned in the world. Restoration of patterns of burning and fuels/forest structure that reasonably emulate historical conditions prior to fire exclusion is consistent with reducing the susceptibility of these ecosystems to catastrophic loss. Priorities may include fire and thinning treatments of upper elevation ecotones to facilitate forest migration, whereas vulnerable low-elevation forests may merit less management investment.

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