Will forest dynamics continue to accelerate throughout the 21st century in the Northern Alps?
Observational evidence suggests that forests in the Northern Alps are changing at an increasing rate as a consequence of climate change. Yet, it remains unclear whether the acceleration of forest change will continue in the future, or whether downregulating feedbacks will eventually decouple forest dynamics from climate change. Here we studied future forest dynamics at Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany by means of a process-based forest landscape model, simulating an ensemble of 22 climate projections until the end of the 21st century. Our objectives were (i) to assess whether the observed acceleration of forest dynamics will continue in the future, (ii) to analyze how uncertainty in future climate translates to variation in future forest disturbance, structure, and composition, and (iii) to determine the main drivers of future forest dynamics. We found that forest dynamics continue to accelerate in the coming decades, with a trend towards denser, structurally more complex and more species rich forests. However, changes in forest structure leveled off in the second half of the 21st century regardless of climate scenario. In contrast, climate scenarios caused trajectories of tree species change to diverge in the second half of the 21st century, with stabilization under RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5 scenarios and accelerated loss of conifers under RCP 8.5. Disturbance projections were 3 to 20 times more variable than future climate, whereas projected future forest structure and composition varied considerably less than climate. Indirect effects of climate change via alterations of the disturbance regime had a stronger impact on future forest dynamics than direct effects. Our findings suggest that dampening feedbacks within forest dynamics will decelerate forest change in the second half of the 21st century. However, warming beyond the levels projected under RCP 4.5 might profoundly alter future forest disturbance and composition, challenging conservation efforts and ecosystem service supply. --
The data is based on simulations of Berchtesgaden National Park using iLand (https://iland-model.org/). Simulations include 22 climate change projections à 20 replicates from year 2020 - 2100. Presented here is the analysis of iLand outputs.
Raw simulation outputs are extensive in size and can be requested from the corresponding author, Dominik Thom.
European Research Council, Award: 101001905
Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection, Award: StMUV TKP01KPB-66747