10.1371/journal.pone.0022977

Strategies for Reforestation under Uncertain Future Climates: Guidelines for Alberta, Canada

Abstract

Commercial forestry programs normally use locally collected seed for reforestation under the assumption that tree populations are optimally adapted to local environments. However, in western Canada this assumption is no longer valid because of climate trends that have occurred over the last several decades. The objective of this study is to show how we can arrive at reforestation recommendations with alternative species and genotypes that are viable under a majority of climate change scenarios.In a case study for commercially important tree species of Alberta, we use an ecosystem-based bioclimate envelope modeling approach for western North America to project habitat for locally adapted populations of tree species using multi-model climate projections for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. We find that genotypes of species that are adapted to drier climatic conditions will be the preferred planting stock over much of the boreal forest that is commercially managed. Interestingly, no alternative species that are currently not present in Alberta can be recommended with any confidence. Finally, we observe large uncertainties in projections of suitable habitat that make reforestation planning beyond the 2050s difficult for most species.More than 50,000 hectares of forests are commercially planted every year in Alberta. Choosing alternative planting stock, suitable for expected future climates, could therefore offer an effective climate change adaptation strategy at little additional cost. Habitat projections for locally adapted tree populations under observed climate change conform well to projections for the 2020s, which suggests that it is a safe strategy to change current reforestation practices and adapt to new climatic realities through assisted migration prescriptions

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Last time updated on 6/5/2019

This paper was published in Public Library of Science (PLOS).

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