Geography Compass

Forests and climate change

By Jenny Lunn

No ecosystem is going to be unaffected by climate change but each will respond differently depending on physical factors such as geographical location and human factors such as policies towards environmental management. Two recent articles consider the impact of climate change on different types of forest.

Monika Calef’s article (Geography Compass, March 2010) looks at the boreal forests of Alaska. The major impact of climate change on this biome, also known as taiga, will be the warming of air, soil and water. At a local level it will affect factors such as the vegetation balance, the presence of insects and disease, and the incidence of fire. On a larger scale, the melting of permafrost will cause the release of carbon stored in the soils which will enter the atmosphere.

Johnstone and Dawson (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb 2010) present their research on the redwood forests down the Pacific coast in California. Although the region experiences hot and dry summers, the forests are subjected to regular coastal fog which supplies up to 40 per cent of their moisture. However, data reveals that over the last century the average daily fog has decreased more than three hours. If this climatic change continues or increases, the trees are likely to experience water stress, the soils will become drier and new seedlings will struggle to survive the summer months.

These two examples demonstrate that every ecosystem will respond differently to variations in climatic factors such as temperature, moisture and wind. Research into the reactions of different biomes in different geographical locations is essential to understanding both localised and global impacts of climate change.

Read Monika Calef’s article about boreal forests

Read about Johnstone and Dawson’s research on redwood forests

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