This paper assesses the resilience of Alaska's boreal forest system to rapid climatic change. Recent warming is associated with reduced growth of dominant tree species, plant disease and insect outbreaks, warming and thawing of permafrost, drying of lakes, increased wildfire extent, increased postfire recruitment of deciduous trees, and reduced safety of hunters traveling on river ice. These changes have modified key structural features, feedbacks, and interactions in the boreal forest, including reduced effects of upland permafrost on regional hydrology, expansion of boreal forest into tundra, and amplification of climate warming because of reduced albedo (shorter winter season) and carbon release from wildfires. Other temperature-sensitive processes for which no trends have been detected include composition of plant and microbial communities, long-term landscape-scale change in carbon stocks, stream discharge, mammalian population dynamics, and river access and subsistence opportunities for rural indigenous communities. Projections of continued warming suggest that Alaska's boreal forest will undergo significant functional and structural changes within the next few decades that are un-precedented in the last 6000 years. The impact of these social-ecological changes will depend in part on the extent of landscape reorganization between uplands and lowlands and on policies regulating subsistence opportunities for rural communities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Global and Planetary Change