Boreal lichen woodlands: A possible negative feedback to climate change in eastern North America

P. Y. Bernier, R. L. Desjardins, Y. Karimi-Zindashty, D. Worth, A. Beaudoin, Y. Luo, S. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Because of successive forest fires, closed-canopy black spruce forests are susceptible to a shift towards open lichen-spruce woodlands in parts of the boreal forest of eastern North America. The shift from dark black spruce canopies to pale lichen ground cover offers a dramatic contrast in reflectance that may compensate for the CO2 emissions from forest fires in terms of radiative forcing. We have therefore looked at the climate change feedback that would result from the generation of lichen woodlands through changes in albedo and in stored carbon. Using albedo estimates based on MODIS imagery and incoming solar radiation for the period between 2000 and 2008 along with forest biomass estimates for eastern Canada, we have estimated that net radiative forcing for the conversion from closed-canopy coniferous forests to open lichen woodlands would be about -0.12nWm-2ha-1, and would therefore generate a cooling effect in the atmosphere. Based on current estimates of area in open lichen woodlands within the closed-canopy black spruce-moss forests of eastern Canada, we estimate that a current net forcing of -0.094mWm-2 has already arisen from such conversions. As projections of future climate have been linked to increased probability of forest fires, the generation of open lichen woodlands provides a possible negative feedback to climate change. Results also suggest that carbon sequestration through the afforestation of boreal lichen woodlands may not provide a climate change mitigation benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-528
Number of pages8
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Albedo
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Fire regime
  • Reforestation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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