Potential future changes of the terrestrial ecosystem based on climate projections by eight general circulation models

Clement Aga Alo, Guiling Wang

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A number of previous modeling studies have assessed the implications of projected CO2-induced climate change for future terrestrial ecosystems. However, although current understanding of possible long-term response of vegetation to elevated CO2 and CO2-induced climate change in some geographical areas (e.g., the high-latitude regions) has been strengthened by dint of accumulating evidence from these past studies, it is still weak in others. This study examines the responses of global potential natural vegetation distribution, net primary production (NPP), and fire emissions to future changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration and climate using the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Land Model's dynamic global vegetation model. The model is run to vegetative equilibrium (i.e., with respect to leaf area index (LAI) and vegetation coverage) driven with preindustrial climate and future climate near 2100, respectively, simulated by eight general circulation models (GCMs). The simulated potential vegetation under the preindustrial control mean climate (CO2 concentration held at 275 ppm) is compared with that under the SRESA1B 2100 mean climate (CO2 concentration stabilizes at 720 ppm beyond 2100). Simulated vegetation response ranges from mild changes of the fractional coverage of different plant functional types to the rather dramatic changes of dominant plant functional types. Although such response differs significantly across different GCM climate projections, a quite consistent spatial pattern emerges, characterized by a considerable poleward spread or shift of temperate and boreal forests in the Northern Hemisphere high latitudes, and a substantial degradation of vegetation type in the tropics (e.g., increase of drought deciduous trees coverage at the expense of evergreen trees) especially in portions of West and southern Africa and South America. Despite the widespread degradation of vegetation type in the tropics, NPP, and growing season LAI are predicted to increase under most GCM scenarios over most of the globe. Carbon fluxes to the atmosphere due to fire generally increase too across the globe. Such responses of NPP and fire occurrence result from the synergistic effects of CO2 concentration changes, climate changes, and vegetation changes. In the HadCM-driven simulation, however, extreme responses are shown in some regions: Deciduous forest is replaced by grasses in large areas in the middle latitudes, and substantial areas in northern South America and southern Africa predominantly covered by evergreen forest are replaced with grasses while NPP and fire emissions reduce drastically (by more than 100%). A future paper will examine how the biosphere response documented here influences the impact of climate change on surface hydrological conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberG01004
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 Mar 2008


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