Compilation by Robyn Darbyshire

Martínez-Vilalta, J. and F. Lloret (2016). “Drought-induced vegetation shifts in terrestrial ecosystems: The key role of regeneration dynamics.” Global and Planetary Change 144: 94-108.

Ongoing climate change is modifying climatic conditions worldwide, with a trend towards drier conditions in most regions. Vegetation will respond to these changes, eventually adjusting to the new climate. It is unclear, however, how close different ecosystems are to climate-related tipping points and, thus, how dramatic these vegetation changes will be in the short- to mid-term, given the existence of strong stabilizing processes. Here, we review the published evidence for recent drought-induced vegetation shifts worldwide, addressing the following questions: (i) what are the necessary conditions for vegetation shifts to occur? (ii) How much evidence of drought-induced vegetation shifts do we have at present and where are they occurring? (iii) What are the main processes that favor/oppose the occurrence of shifts at different ecological scales? (iv) What are the complications in detecting and attributing drought-induced vegetation shifts? (v) What ecological factors can interact with drought to promote shifts or stability? We propose a demographic framework to classify the likely outcome of instances of drought-induced mortality, based upon the survival of adults of potential replacement species and the regeneration of both formerly dominant affected species and potential replacement species. Out of 35 selected case studies only eight were clearly consistent with the occurrence of a vegetation shift (species or biome shift), whereas three corresponded to self-replacements in which the affected, formerly dominant species was able to regenerate after suffering drought-induced mortality. The other 24 cases were classified as uncertain, either due to lack of information or, more commonly, because the initially affected and potential replacement species all showed similar levels of regeneration after the mortality event. Overall, potential vegetation transitions were consistent with more drought-resistant species replacing less resistant ones. However, almost half (44%) of the vegetation trajectories associated to the 35 case studies implied no change in the functional type of vegetation. Of those cases implying a functional type change, the most common one was a transition from tree- to shrub-dominated communities. Overall, evidence for drought-induced vegetation shifts is still limited. In this context, we stress the need for improved, long-term monitoring programs with sufficient temporal resolution. We also highlight the critical importance of regeneration in determining the outcome of drought-induced mortality events, and the crucial role of co-drivers, particularly management. Finally, we illustrate how placing vegetation shifts in a biogeographical and successional context may support progress in our understanding of the underlying processes and the ecosystem-level implications.

FULL TEXT LINK:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921818115301405


Cooper, M.G., Nolin, A.W., et al. (2016). “Testing the recent snow drought as an analog for climate warming sensitivity of Cascades snowpacks.” Environmental Research Letters 11(8): 084009.

Record low snowpack conditions were observed at Snow Telemetry stations in the Cascades Mountains, USA during the winters of 2014 and 2015. We tested the hypothesis that these winters are analogs for the temperature sensitivity of Cascades snowpacks. In the Oregon Cascades, the 2014 and 2015 winter air temperature anomalies were approximately +2 °C and +4 °C above the climatological mean. We used a spatially distributed snowpack energy balance model to simulate the sensitivity of multiple snowpack metrics to a +2 °C and +4 °C warming and compared our modeled sensitivities to observed values during 2014 and 2015. We found that for each +1 °C warming, modeled basin-mean peak snow water equivalent (SWE) declined by 22%–30%, the date of peak SWE (DPS) advanced by 13 days, the duration of snow cover (DSC) shortened by 31–34 days, and the snow disappearance date (SDD) advanced by 22–25 days. Our hypothesis was not borne out by the observations except in the case of peak SWE; other snow metrics did not resemble predicted values based on modeled sensitivities and thus are not effective analogs of future temperature sensitivities. Rather than just temperature, it appears that the magnitude and phasing of winter precipitation events, such as large, late spring snowfall, controlled the DPS, SDD, and DSC.

FULL TEXT LINK:  http://stacks.iop.org/1748-9326/11/i=8/a=084009


Hough-Snee, N., A. Kasprak, et al. (2016). “Hydrogeomorphic and Biotic Drivers of Instream Wood Differ Across Sub-basins of the Columbia River Basin, USA.” River Research and Applications 32(6): 1302-1315.

Instream wood promotes habitat heterogeneity through its influence on flow hydraulics and channel geomorphology. Within the Columbia River Basin, USA, wood is vital for the creation and maintenance of habitat for threatened salmonids. However, our understanding of the relative roles of the climatic, geomorphic, and ecological processes that source wood to streams is limited, making it difficult to identify baseline predictions of instream wood and create targets for stream restoration. Here, we investigate how instream wood frequency and volume differ between seven sub-basins of the interior Columbia River Basin and what processes shape these differences within these sub-basins. We collected data on wood volume and frequency, discharge and stream power, and riparian and watershed forest structure for use in modelling wood volume and frequency. Using random forest models, we found that mean annual precipitation, riparian tree cover, and the individual watershed were the most important predictors of wood volume and frequency. Within sub-basins, we used linear models, finding that some basins had unique predictors of wood. Discharge, watershed area, or precipitation often combined with forest cover, riparian conifer, and/or large tree cover in models of instream large wood volume and frequency. In many sub-basins, models showed at least one hydrologic variable, indicative of transport competence and one ecological variable, indicative of the reach or upstream watershed’s capability to grow measurable instream wood. We conclude that basin-specific models yield important insights into the hydrologic and ecological processes that influence wood loads, creating tractable hypotheses for building predictive models of instream wood.

FULL TEXT LINK:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/rra.2968


Latif, Q. S., J. S. Sanderlin, et al. (2016). “Avian relationships with wildfire at two dry forest locations with different historical fire regimes.” Ecosphere 7(5).

Wildfire is a key factor influencing bird community composition in western North American forests. We need to understand species and community responses to wildfire and how responses vary regionally to effectively manage dry conifer forests for maintaining biodiversity. We compared avian relationships with wildfire burn severity between two dry forest locations of Arizona and Idaho. We predicted different responses to wildfire between locations due to regional differences in historical fire regime. We conducted point count surveys for 3 yr following wildfire (Arizona: 1997–1999; Idaho: 2008–2010) and used multispecies hierarchical models to analyze relationships of bird occupancy with burn severity. Consistent with our prediction for mixed-severity fire regimes characterizing the Idaho location, we observed proportionately more positive species occupancy relationships and, consequently, a positive species richness relationship with burn severity in Idaho. We also observed the opposite pattern in Arizona, which was congruent with our prediction for the low-severity fire regime characterizing that location. Cavity nesters and aerial insectivores occupied more severely burned sites following wildfire, corresponding with predicted increases in nesting substrate and foraging opportunities for these species. In contrast, canopy-nesting foliage gleaners and pine seed consumers exhibited negative relationships with burn severity. Our results were consistent with predictions based on species life histories and with patterns from the literature, suggesting generality of observed relationships and locational difference in relationships with wildfire. We therefore suggest that optimal management strategies for maintaining avian diversity could differ regionally. Specifically, intensive fuels management may be ecologically less appropriate for promoting biodiversity in areas such as the Idaho location where mixed-severity wildfires and dense forest stands were historically more common.

FULL TEXT LINK:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1346


Giunta, A., M. Jenkins, et al. (2016). “Disturbance Agents and Their Associated Effects on the Health of Interior Douglas-Fir Forests in the Central Rocky Mountains.” Forests 7(4): 80.

Interior Douglas-fir is a prevalent forest type throughout the central Rocky Mountains. Past management actions, specifically fire suppression, have led to an expansion of this forest type. Although Douglas-fir forests cover a broad geographic range, few studies have described the interactive effects of various disturbance agents on forest health conditions. In this paper, we review pertinent literature describing the roles, linkages, and mechanisms by which disturbances, including insect outbreaks, pathogens, fire, and other abiotic factors, affect the development, structure, and distribution of interior montane forests primarily comprised of Douglas-fir. We also discuss how these effects may influence important resource values such as water, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, timber, and recreation. Finally, we identify gaps where further research may increase our understanding of these disturbance agents, their interacting roles, and how they influence long-term forest health.

FULL TEXT LINK:  http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/7/4/80