• 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.
    • Key landscape and biotic indicators of watersheds sensitivity to forest disturbance identified using remote sensing and historical hydrography data

      Buma, Brian; Livneh, Ben (IOP Publishing, 2017-07-19)
      Water is one of the most critical resources derived from natural systems. While it has long been recognized that forest disturbances like fire influence watershed streamflow characteristics, individual studies have reported conflicting results with some showing streamflow increases postdisturbance and others decreases, while other watersheds are insensitive to even large disturbance events. Characterizing the differences between sensitive (e.g. where streamflow does change postdisturbance) and insensitive watersheds is crucial to anticipating response to future disturbance events. Here, we report on an analysis of a national-scale, gaged watershed database together with high-resolution forest mortality imagery. A simple watershed response model was developed based on the runoff ratio for watersheds (n=73) prior to a major disturbance, detrended for variation in precipitation inputs. Post-disturbance deviations from the expected water yield and streamflow timing from expected (based on observed precipitation) were then analyzed relative to the abiotic and biotic characteristics of the individual watershed and observed extent of forest mortality. The extent of the disturbance was significantly related to change in post-disturbance water yield (p<0.05), and there were several distinctive differences between watersheds exhibiting post-disturbance increases, decreases, and those showing no change in water yield. Highly disturbed, arid watersheds with low soil: water contact time are the most likely to see increases, with the magnitude positively correlated with the extent of disturbance. Watersheds dominated by deciduous forest with low bulk density soils typically show reduced yield post-disturbance. Postdisturbance streamflow timing change was associated with climate, forest type, and soil. Snowy coniferous watersheds were generally insensitive to disturbance, whereas finely textured soils with rapid runoff were sensitive. This is the first national scale investigation of streamflow postdisturbance using fused gage and remotely sensed data at high resolution, and gives important insights that can be used to anticipate changes in streamflow resulting from future disturbances.