• Emerging climate-driven disturbance processes: Widespread mortality associated with snow-to-rain transitions across 10° of latitude and half the range of a climate-threatened conifer

      Buma, Brian; Hennon, Paul E; Harrington, Constance A.; Popkin, Jamie R.; Krapek, John; Lamb, Melinda S.; Oakes, Lauren E.; Saunders, Sari; Zeglen, Stefan (John Wiley & Sons, 2016-10-29)
      Climate change is causing rapid changes to forest disturbance regimes worldwide. While the consequences of climate change for existing disturbance processes, like fires, are relatively well studied, emerging drivers of disturbance such as snow loss and subsequent mortality are much less documented. As the climate warms, a transition from winter snow to rain in high latitudes will cause significant changes in environmental conditions such as soil temperatures, historically buffered by snow cover. The Pacific coast of North America is an excellent test case, as mean winter temperatures are currently at the snow–rain threshold and have been warming for approximately 100 years post-Little Ice Age. Increased mortality in a widespread tree species in the region has been linked to warmer winters and snow loss. Here, we present the first high-resolution range map of this climate-sensitive species, Callitropsis nootkatensis (yellow-cedar), and document the magnitude and location of observed mortality across Canada and the United States. Snow cover loss related mortality spans approximately 10° latitude (half the native range of the species) and 7% of the overall species range and appears linked to this snow–rain transition across its range. Mortality is commonly >70% of basal area in affected areas, and more common where mean winter temperatures is at or above the snow–rain threshold (>0 °C mean winter temperature). Approximately 50% of areas with a currently suitable climate for the species (< 2 °C) are expected to warm beyond that threshold by the late 21st century. Regardless of climate change scenario, little of the range which is expected to remain suitable in the future (e.g., a climatic refugia) is in currently protected landscapes (<1–9%). These results are the first documentation of this type of emerging climate disturbance and highlight the difficulties of anticipating novel disturbance processes when planning for conservation and management.
    • A foundation of ecology rediscovered: 100 years of succession on the William S. Cooper plots in Glacier Bay, Alaska

      Buma, Brian; Bisbing, Sarah; Krapek, John; Wright, Glenn (Ecological Society of America, 2017-03-24)
      Understanding plant community succession is one of the original pursuits of ecology, forming some of the earliest theoretical frameworks in the field. Much of this was built on the long-term research of William S. Cooper, who established a permanent plot network in Glacier Bay, Alaska, in 1916. This study now represents the longest-running primary succession plot network in the world. Permanent plots are useful for their ability to follow mechanistic change through time without assumptions inherent in space-for-time (chronosequence) designs. After 100-yr, these plots show surprising variety in species composition, soil characteristics (carbon, nitrogen, depth), and percent cover, attributable to variation in initial vegetation establishment first noted by Cooper in the 1916–1923 time period, partially driven by dispersal limitations. There has been almost a complete community composition replacement over the century and general species richness increase, but the effective number of species has declined significantly due to dominance of Salix species which established 100-yr prior (the only remaining species from the original cohort). Where Salix dominates, there is no establishment of “later” successional species like Picea. Plots nearer the entrance to Glacier Bay, and thus closer to potential seed sources after the most recent glaciation, have had consistently higher species richness for 100 yr. Age of plots is the best predictor of soil N content and C:N ratio, though plots still dominated by Salix had lower overall N; soil accumulation was more associated with dominant species. This highlights the importance of contingency and dispersal in community development. The 100-yr record of these plots, including species composition, spatial relationships, cover, and observed interactions between species provides a powerful view of long-term primary succession.