• A Geobotanical Analysis Of Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation, Climate, And Substrate

      Raynolds, Martha K. (2009)
      The objective of the research presented in this dissertation was to better understand the factors controlling the present and potential future distribution of arctic vegetation. The analysis compares the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (CAVM) with circumpolar data sets of environmental characteristics. Geographical information system (GIS) software was used to overlay the CAVM with a satellite index of vegetation (normalized difference vegetation index, NDVI) and environmental factors that are most important in controlling the distribution of arctic vegetation, including summer temperature, landscape age, precipitation, snow cover, substrate chemistry (pH and salinity), landscape type, elevation, permafrost characteristics, and distance to sea. Boosted regression tree analysis was used to determine the relative importance of different environmental characteristics for different vegetation types and for different regions. Results of this research include maps, charts and tables that summarize and display the spatial characteristics of arctic vegetation. The data for arctic land surface temperature and landscape age are especially important new resources for researchers. These results are available electronically, not only as summary data, but also as GIS data layers with a spatial context (www.arcticatlas.org). The results emphasize the value and reliability of NDVI for studying arctic vegetation. The relationship between NDVI and summer temperatures across the circumpolar arctic was similar to the correlated increases in NDVI and temperature seen over the time period of satellite records. Summaries of arctic biomass based on NDVI match those based on extrapolation from ground samples. The boosted regression tree analysis described ecological niches of arctic vegetation types, demonstrating the importance of summer temperatures and landscape age in controlling the distribution of arctic vegetation. As the world continues to focus on the Arctic as an area undergoing accelerated warming due to global climate change, results presented here from spatially explicit analysis of existing arctic vegetation and environmental characteristics can be used to better understand plant distribution patterns, evaluate change in the vegetation, and calibrate models of arctic vegetation and animal habitat.
    • Applied Range Ecology Of Reindeer (Rangifer Tarandus Tarandus) On The Seward Peninsula, Alaska

      Finstad, Gregory Lawrence; Kielland, Knut; Harris, Norman (2008)
      Linking variation of the environment to animal production is key to successful range management. Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) are landscape units used by land managers for the grazing management of domestic reindeer ( Rangifer tarandus tarandus) on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. This study investigated the appropriateness of using ESDs for the grazing management of reindeer and explored the use of alternate units to link landscape variation to animal production. ESD composition of reindeer ranges varied across the Seward Peninsula, but there was no relationship to either animal production, estimated by June calf weight and cow/calf ratios, or reindeer serum and tissue mineral concentrations. I have shown that reindeer do not graze uniformly across ESDs, but are selective, both temporally and spatially, in what they consume. Reindeer diet selection and animal production appear to be driven by temporal variation in the nutritional characteristics of individual forage species. Biomass production and seasonal nutritional characteristics of forage species were used develop a computerized mapping program for reindeer producers to identify high quality grazing areas. Production among herds was related with identified forage sources of protein in the diet. Reindeer in herds with smaller June calves consumed more catkins, stems and leaf buds of shrubs in May, presumably to compensate for lower protein reserves. Diets of reindeer and June calf weight were significantly predicted by the delta15N ‰ differential between antler core (AC) and antler periosteum (AP). Although animal production was related to landscape stratification at the species level, data showed that weather patterns affected forage nutrient concentration and foraging accessibility at a landscape level. Body weight and growth of female calves and the proportion of yearlings lactating the next summer were positively correlated with spring temperature and negatively correlated with winter severity and summer temperature. Land managers are using ESDs to monitor and assess the impact of grazing, but I have shown that landscape variation described at a multitude of scales other than ESD are linked to grazing patterns and animal production. I concluded that these alternative landscape units be integrated into reindeer range management currently being practiced on the Seward Peninsula.
    • Carbon Cycling In Three Mature Black Spruce ( Picea Mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.) Forests In Interior Alaska

      Vogel, Jason Gene; Valentine, David (2004)
      Climate warming in high latitudes is expected to alter the carbon cycle of the boreal forest. Warming will likely increase the rate of organic matter decomposition and microbial respiration. Faster organic matter decomposition should increase plant available nutrients and stimulate plant growth. I examined these predicted relationships between C cycle components in three similar black spruce forests (Picea mariana [Mill] B.S.P) near Fairbanks, Alaska, that differed in soil environment and in-situ decomposition. As predicted, greater in-situ decomposition rates corresponded to greater microbial respiration and black spruce aboveground growth. However root and soil respiration were both greater at the site where decomposition was slowest, indicating greater C allocation to root processes with slower decomposition. It is unclear what environmental factor controls spruce allocation. Low temperature or moisture could cause spruce to increase belowground allocation because slower decomposition leads to low N availability, but foliar N concentration was similar across sites and root N concentration greater at the slow decomposition site. The foliar isotopic composition of 13C indicated soil moisture was lower at the site with greater root and soil respiration. From a literature review of mature black spruce forests, it appears drier (e.g. Alaska) regions of the boreal forest have greater soil respiration because of greater black spruce C allocation belowground. Organic matter characteristics identified with pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry correlated with microbial processes, but organic matter chemistry less influenced C and N mineralization than did temperature. Also, differences among sites in C and net N mineralization rates were few and difficult to explain from soil characteristics. Warming had a greater influence on C and N mineralization than the mediatory effect of soil organic matter chemistry. In this study, spruce root C allocation varied more among the three stands than other ecosystem components of C cycling. Spruce root growth most affected the annual C balance by controlling forest floor C accumulation, which was remarkably sensitive to root severing. Predicting the response of black spruce to climate change will require an understanding of how spruce C allocation responds to available moisture and soil temperature.
    • Diversity In The Boreal Forest Of Alaska: Distribution And Impacts On Ecosystem Services

      Young, Brian D.; Yarie, John; Chapin, F. Stuart; Greenburg, Josh; Huettmann, Falk; Verbyla, David (2012)
      Within the forest management community, diversity is often considered as simply a list of species present at a location. In this study, diversity refers to species richness and evenness and takes into account vegetation structure (i.e. size, density, and complexity) that characterize a given forest ecosystem and can typically be measured using existing forest inventories. Within interior Alaska the largest forest inventories are the Cooperative Alaska Forest Inventory and the Wainwright Forest Inventory. The limited distribution of these inventories constrains the predictions that can be made. In this thesis, I examine forest diversity in three distinct frameworks; Recruitment, Patterns, and Production. In Chapter 1, I explore forest management decisions that may shape forest diversity and its role and impacts in the boreal forest. In Chapter 2, I evaluate and map the relationships between recruitment and species and tree size diversity using a geospatial approach. My results show a consistent positive relationship between recruitment and species diversity and a general negative relationship between recruitment and tree size diversity, indicating a tradeoff between species diversity and tree size diversity in their effects on recruitment. In Chapter 3, I modeled and mapped current and possible future forest diversity patterns within the boreal forest of Alaska using machine learning. The results indicate that the geographic patterns of the two diversity measures differ greatly for both current conditions and future scenarios and that these are more strongly influenced by human impacts than by ecological factors. In Chapter 4, I developed a method for mapping and predicting forest biomass for the boreal forest of interior Alaska using three different machine-learning techniques. I developed first time high resolution prediction maps at a 1 km2 pixel size for aboveground woody biomass. My results indicate that the geographic patterns of biomass are strongly influenced by the tree size class diversity of a given stand. Finally, in Chapter 5, I argue that the methods and results developed for this dissertation can aid in our understanding of forest ecology and forest management decisions within the boreal region.
    • Linked disturbance interactions in South-Central Alaska: implications for ecosystems and people

      Hansen, Winslow D. (2013-05)
      Communities and ecosystems in the Alaskan boreal forest are undergoing substantial change. People contribute to this change. They are also impacted by the consequences. For example, wildfire and spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) outbreaks have increased in frequency and severity due to warming trends, affecting the ecosystem and services important to people. I conducted a study to explore the social and ecological implications of changing natural disturbances. I evaluated how the occurrence of spruce bark beetle outbreak has altered the probability of wildfire between 2001 and 2009 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Modeling the effects of bark beetle outbreak on the probability of large wildfire (> 500 ha) and small wildfires (<500 ha), I found that the influence of the outbreak differed as a function of wildfire size. The occurrence and length of outbreak increased large wildfire probability. Small wildfires were mediated by human influence and less so by bark beetle outbreak. I also used spatial econometric techniques to estimate how wildfires and the bark beetle outbreak affected property values on the Kenai Peninsula in 2001 and 2010. I found that wildfires> 3.3 ha and the bark-beetle outbreak increased property values. Wildfires <3.3 ha decreased property values.
    • The Treeline Ecotone In Interior Alaska: From Theory To Planning And The Ecology In Between

      Wilmking, Martin; Juday, Glenn Patrick (2003)
      Treelines have been the focus of intense research for nearly a hundred years, also because they represent one of the most visible boundaries between two ecological systems. In recent years however, treelines have been studied, because changes in forest ecosystems due to global change, e.g. treeline movement, are expected to manifest first in these areas. This dissertation focuses on the elevational and latitudinal treelines bordering the boreal forest of interior Alaska. After development of a conceptional model of ecotones as three-dimensional spaces between ecosystems, we offer a historical perspective on treeline research and its broader impact in the Brooks Range, Alaska. Dendrochronological analysis of >1500 white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench [Voss])) at 13 treeline sites in Alaska revealed both positive and negative growth responses to climate warming, challenging the widespread assumption that northern treeline trees grow better with warming climate. Hot Julys decreased growth of ~40% of white spruce at treeline in Alaska, whereas warm springs enhanced growth of others. Growth increases and decreases appear at temperature thresholds, which have occurred more frequently in the late 20th century. Based on these relationships between tree-growth and climate as well as using landscape characteristics, we modeled future tree-growth and distribution in two National Parks in Alaska and extrapolated the results into the 21 st century using climate scenarios from five General Circulation Models. In Gates of the Arctic National Park, our results indicate enhanced growth at low elevation, whereas other areas will see changes in forest structure (dieback of tree-islands, infilling of existing stands). In Denali National Park, our results indicate possible dieback of white spruce at low elevations and treeline advance and infilling at high elevations. This will affect the road corridor with a forest increase of about 50% along the road, which will decrease the possibility for wildlife viewing. Surprisingly, aspect did not affect tree growth-climate relationships. Without accounting for opposite growth responses under warming conditions, temperature thresholds, as well as meso-scale changes in forest distribution, climate reconstructions based on ring-width will miscalibrate past climate, and biogeochemical and dynamic vegetation models will overestimate carbon uptake and treeline advance under future warming scenarios.