Observational evidence has suggested that forests in the Northern Alps are changing due to climate change. However, it is still unclear whether forest change will continue in the future or whether downregulation feedback will decouple forest dynamics from climate change. Dominik and colleagues studied the forest dynamics at Berchtesgaden National Park (BGNP), Germany.
Due to numerous climate-sensitive processes, simulation studies have shown that forests will change profoundly and nonlinearly in the future. Small-scale windthrow or insect outbreaks in mixed forests (i.e. low to moderate severity disturbances) may magnify structural and compositional complexity (Čada et al., 2016; Halpin & Lorimer, 2016). Development towards structurally and functionally complex forest, which is found in old-growth forests, is believed to buffer the effects of climate change when comparing them with younger and/or less complex forests (Bauhus et al., 2009; Thom et al., 2019).
Evidence that the Earth will warm in the coming decades is indisputable. However, climate models have improved greatly over the past decades, which reduces the uncertainties in future climate projections.
Three objectives and three hypotheses were put forward in this study. Firstly, forest dynamics at BGNP continues to accelerate, since climate change was found to be a major driver of past forest change. Secondly, natural disturbances are important drivers of future forest change. Thirdly, future variability in the forest is expected to be greater than the future variability in climate, in which dampening feedbacks on climate sensitivity are outweighed by amplifying feedbacks between ecosystem processes.
The authors found that “forest dynamics will continue to accelerate in the coming decades, with a trend towards denser, structurally more complex and more species-rich forests. However, changes in forest structure levelled off in the second half of the 21st century regardless of climate scenario.”
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