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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2019

  • Title: Social and biophysical determinants of future forest conditions in New England: Effects of a modern land-use regime
  • Primary Author: Matthew Duveneck (Not specified)
  • Additional Authors: Jonathan Thompson (Harvard Forest)
  • Abstract:

    The future forests of eastern North America will be shaped by at least three broad drivers: (i) vegetation change and natural disturbance patterns associated with the protracted recovery following colonial era land use, (ii) a changing climate, and (iii) a land-use regime that consists of geographically variable rates and intensities of forest harvesting, clearing for development, and land protection. We evaluated the aggregate and relative importance of these factors for the future forests of New England, USA by simulating a continuation of the recent trends in these drivers for fifty-years, nominally spanning 2010 to 2060. The models explicitly incorporate the modern distribution of tree species and the geographical variation in climate and land-use change. Using a cellular land-cover change model in combination with a physiologically-based forest landscape model, we conducted a factorial simulation experiment to assess changes in aboveground carbon (AGC) and forest composition. In the control scenario that simulates a hypothetical absence of any future land use or future climate change, the simulated landscape experienced large increases in average AGC—an increase of 53% from 2010 to 2060 (from 4.2 to 6.3 kg m-2). By 2060, climate change increased AGC stores by 8% relative to the control while the land-use regime reduced AGC by 16%. Among land uses, timber harvesting had a larger effect on AGC storage and changes in tree composition than did forest conversion to non-forest uses, with the most pronounced impacts observed on private corporate-owned land in northern New England. Our results demonstrate a large difference between the landscape’s potential to store carbon and the landscape’s current trajectory, assuming a continuation of the modern land-use regime. They also reveal aspects of the land-use regime that will have a disproportionate impact on the ability of the landscape to store carbon in the future, such as harvest regimes on corporate-owned lands. This information will help policy-makers and land managers evaluate trade-offs between commodity production and mitigating climate change through forest carbon storage.

  • Research Category: Regional Studies; Physiological Ecology, Population Dynamics, and Species Interactions; Ecological Informatics and Modelling; Conservation and Management