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Shifting biomes in Alaska illustrated in new study

Date:
February 21, 2011
Source:
Woods Hole Research Center
Summary:
A new study addresses forest productivity trends in Alaska, highlighting a shift in biomes caused by a warming climate. The findings linked satellite observations with an extensive and unique tree-ring data set. This study provides a regional picture of forest productivity which did not previously exist.

A new study appearing in Ecology Letters addresses forest productivity trends in Alaska, highlighting a shift in biomes caused by a warming climate. The findings, conducted by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and three other institutions based in Alaska and France, linked satellite observations with an extensive and unique tree-ring data set.

Patterns observed support current hypotheses regarding increased growth of evergreen forest at the margins of present tundra and declining productivity at the margins of temperate forest to the south. This study provides a regional picture of forest productivity which did not previously exist.

According to lead author Pieter Beck, a post-doctoral fellow at WHRC, "The results provide evidence for the initiation of a biome shift in response to climate change, and indicate that some ecosystem models may be missing fundamental changes taking place in the circumpolar region."

He adds that "while the findings contrast with some recent model predictions of increased high latitude vegetation productivity, they are consistent with longer-term projections of global vegetation models."

Scott Goetz, a senior scientist at WHRC, proposed the study and co-authored the manuscript. He says, "Most people don't think of high latitudes forests as being drought stressed -- and they are not in the traditional sense of having soils dry up and blow away -- but their growth is negatively impacted by hot dry air masses and those have increased in recent years. This paper shows those drought impacts are captured in both the satellite and the tree ring record. Of course the tree rings go back in time much further than the satellite observations, which only extend about 30 years, but the changes that we observe from satellites are clearly supported not only by the tree rings but also by carbon isotope analysis of the wood."

Beck adds that climate driven changes in the disturbance regime, which can rapidly alter forest dynamics and the ability of boreal forests to migrate into current tundra areas, will most likely shape the biome shift in the future.

In addition to WHRC, researchers from the University of Alaska School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, the Panthéon Sorbonne Archéologie des Amériques, and the Bureau of Land Management participated in the study and co-authored the paper.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Woods Hole Research Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Pieter S. A. Beck, Glenn P. Juday, Claire Alix, Valerie A. Barber, Stephen E. Winslow, Emily E. Sousa, Patricia Heiser, James D. Herriges, Scott J. Goetz. Changes in forest productivity across Alaska consistent with biome shift. Ecology Letters, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01598.x

Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Research Center. "Shifting biomes in Alaska illustrated in new study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110221071526.htm>.
Woods Hole Research Center. (2011, February 21). Shifting biomes in Alaska illustrated in new study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110221071526.htm
Woods Hole Research Center. "Shifting biomes in Alaska illustrated in new study." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110221071526.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

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