Forest Climate Change Research Papers

Credit USEPA.

Guest Editors

Jeremy Martinich US Environmental Protection Agency
Allison Thomson Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Robert Beach RTI International
Allison Crimmins US Environmental Protection Agency
James McFarland US Environmental Protection Agency

Synthesis and Review


Agriculture and forestry are important economic sectors that are both highly sensitive to and directly impacted by climate change. Despite several decades of research, much is still unknown regarding the magnitude, timing, and even directionality of yield responses to a changing climate. A key remaining issue is understanding how yield impacts are affected by different climate forcing scenarios. Insights into the importance of climate forcing, relative to other uncertainties, is important for assessing the influence of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation on the agriculture and forestry sectors.

The objective of this focus issue is to present the methods and results of modeling exercises that estimate the impacts of climate change on agriculture and forestry under a consistent set of climate projections that represent futures with and without global-scale GHG mitigation. The core of the focus issue will include analyses of agriculture and forestry yield impacts under climate change, both domestic (primarily in the United States) and global in scale.

The majority of focus issue articles are invited, but the focus issue welcomes additional research papers on biophysical or economic modeling of climate impacts on the agriculture and forestry sectors at regional to global scales. Of particular interest would be research on multiple future climate forcing scenarios, and multi-model comparisons that assess the economic risk and damages to agriculture and forestry sectors. A specific focus of the core papers of the issue will be the estimation of the benefits of global-scale GHG mitigation, and any additional research papers should provide at least some investigation of this topic. Along these lines, we would invite contributions from ongoing climate impacts model studies, in particular to complement some of the areas not explicitly addressed by the core papers, such as the implications for US agriculture of climate change impacts in other world regions. However, the focus of this issue will be on impacts in the US and interactions between domestic and international markets for agricultural and forestry goods.

If you believe you have a suitable article in preparation please send your pre-submission query either to the corresponding guest editor or to the journal's publisher All articles should be submitted using our online submission form.

The articles listed below form the complete focus collection.


Open access

The impacts of future climate and carbon dioxide changes on the average and variability of US maize yields under two emission scenarios

Daniel W Urban et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 045003

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The United States is the largest producer of maize in the world, a crop for which demand continues to rise rapidly. Past studies have projected that climate change will negatively impact mean maize yields in this region, while at the same time increasing yield variability. However, some have questioned the accuracy of these projections because they are often based on indirect measures of soil moisture, have failed to explicitly capture the potential interactions between temperature and soil moisture availability, and often omit the beneficial effects of elevated carbon dioxide (CO 2) on transpiration efficiency. Here we use a new detailed dataset on field-level yields in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois, along with fine-resolution daily weather data and moisture reconstructions, to evaluate the combined effects of moisture and heat on maize yields in the region. Projected climate change scenarios over this region from a suite of CMIP5 models are then used to assess future impacts and the differences between two contrasting emissions scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5). We show that (i) statistical models which explicitly account for interactions between heat and moisture, which have not been represented in previous empirical models, lead to significant model improvement and significantly higher projected yield variability under warming and drying trends than when accounting for each factor independently; (ii) inclusion of the benefits of elevated CO 2 significantly reduces impacts, particularly for yield variability; and (iii) net damages from climate change and CO 2 become larger for the higher emission scenario in the latter half of the 21st century, and significantly so by the end of century. byReferences

Open access

Climate change impact and potential adaptation strategies under alternate realizations of climate scenarios for three major crops in Europe

Marcello Donatelli et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 075005

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This study presents an estimate of the effects of climate variables and CO 2 on three major crops, namely wheat, rapeseed and sunflower, in EU27 Member States. We also investigated some technical adaptation options which could offset climate change impacts. The time-slices 2000, 2020 and 2030 were chosen to represent the baseline and future climate, respectively. Furthermore, two realizations within the A1B emission scenario proposed by the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), from the ECHAM5 and HadCM3 GCM, were selected. A time series of 30 years for each GCM and time slice were used as input weather data for simulation. The time series were generated with a stochastic weather generator trained over GCM-RCM time series (downscaled simulations from the ENSEMBLES project which were statistically bias-corrected prior to the use of the weather generator). GCM-RCM simulations differed primarily for rainfall patterns across Europe, whereas the temperature increase was similar in the time horizons considered. Simulations based on the model CropSyst v. 3 were used to estimate crop responses; CropSyst was re-implemented in the modelling framework BioMA. The results presented in this paper refer to abstraction of crop growth with respect to its production system, and consider growth as limited by weather and soil water. How crop growth responds to CO 2 concentrations; pests, diseases, and nutrients limitations were not accounted for in simulations. The results show primarily that different realization of the emission scenario lead to noticeably different crop performance projections in the same time slice. Simple adaptation techniques such as changing sowing dates and the use of different varieties, the latter in terms of duration of the crop cycle, may be effective in alleviating the adverse effects of climate change in most areas, although response to best adaptation (within the techniques tested) differed across crops. Although a negative impact of climate scenarios is evident in most areas, the combination of rainfall patterns and increased photosynthesis efficiency due to CO 2 concentrations showed possible improvements of production patterns in some areas, including Southern Europe. The uncertainty deriving from GCM realizations with respect to rainfall suggests that articulated and detailed testing of adaptation techniques would be redundant. Using ensemble simulations would allow for the identification of areas where adaptation, like those simulated, may be run autonomously by farmers, hence not requiring specific intervention in terms of support policies. byReferences

Open access

Climate change impacts on agriculture in 2050 under a range of plausible socioeconomic and emissions scenarios

Keith Wiebe et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 085010

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Previous studies have combined climate, crop and economic models to examine the impact of climate change on agricultural production and food security, but results have varied widely due to differences in models, scenarios and input data. Recent work has examined (and narrowed) these differences through systematic model intercomparison using a high-emissions pathway to highlight the differences. This paper extends that analysis to explore a range of plausible socioeconomic scenarios and emission pathways. Results from multiple climate and economic models are combined to examine the global and regional impacts of climate change on agricultural yields, area, production, consumption, prices and trade for coarse grains, rice, wheat, oilseeds and sugar crops to 2050. We find that climate impacts on global average yields, area, production and consumption are similar across shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP 1, 2 and 3, as we implement them based on population, income and productivity drivers), except when changes in trade policies are included. Impacts on trade and prices are higher for SSP 3 than SSP 2, and higher for SSP 2 than for SSP 1. Climate impacts for all variables are similar across low to moderate emissions pathways (RCP 4.5 and RCP 6.0), but increase for a higher emissions pathway (RCP 8.5). It is important to note that these global averages may hide regional variations. Projected reductions in agricultural yields due to climate change by 2050 are larger for some crops than those estimated for the past half century, but smaller than projected increases to 2050 due to rising demand and intrinsic productivity growth. Results illustrate the sensitivity of climate change impacts to differences in socioeconomic and emissions pathways. Yield impacts increase at high emissions levels and vary with changes in population, income and technology, but are reduced in all cases by endogenous changes in prices and other variables. byReferences

Open access

Climate change impacts on US agriculture and forestry: benefits of global climate stabilization

Robert H Beach et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 095004

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Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, higher temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and other climate change impacts have already begun to affect US agriculture and forestry, with impacts expected to become more substantial in the future. There have been numerous studies of climate change impacts on agriculture or forestry, but relatively little research examining the long-term net impacts of a stabilization scenario relative to a case with unabated climate change. We provide an analysis of the potential benefits of global climate change mitigation for US agriculture and forestry through 2100, accounting for landowner decisions regarding land use, crop mix, and management practices. The analytic approach involves a combination of climate models, a crop process model (EPIC), a dynamic vegetation model used for forests (MC1), and an economic model of the US forestry and agricultural sector (FASOM-GHG). We find substantial impacts on productivity, commodity markets, and consumer and producer welfare for the stabilization scenario relative to unabated climate change, though the magnitude and direction of impacts vary across regions and commodities. Although there is variability in welfare impacts across climate simulations, we find positive net benefits from stabilization in all cases, with cumulative impacts ranging from $32.7 billion to $54.5 billion over the period 2015–2100. Our estimates contribute to the literature on potential benefits of GHG mitigation and can help inform policy decisions weighing alternative mitigation and adaptation actions. byReferences

Open access

US major crops' uncertain climate change risks and greenhouse gas mitigation benefits

Ian Sue Wing et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 115002

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We estimate the costs of climate change to US agriculture, and associated potential benefits of abating greenhouse gas emissions. Five major crops’ yield responses to climatic variation are modeled empirically, and the results combined with climate projections for a no-policy, high-warming future, as well as moderate and stringent mitigation scenarios. Unabated warming reduces yields of wheat and soybeans by 2050, and cotton by 2100, but moderate warming increases yields of all crops except wheat. Yield changes are monetized using the results of economic simulations within an integrated climate-economy modeling framework. Uncontrolled warming’s economic effects on major crops are slightly positive—annual benefits <$4 B. These are amplified by emission reductions, but subject to diminishing returns—by 2100 reaching $17 B under moderate mitigation, but only $7 B with stringent mitigation. Costs and benefits are sensitive to irreducible uncertainty about the fertilization effects of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, without which unabated warming incurs net costs of up to $18 B, generating benefits to moderate (stringent) mitigation as large as $26 B ($20 B). byReferences

Open access

Implications of climate mitigation for future agricultural production

Christoph Müller et al 2015 Environ. Res. Lett.10 125004

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Climate change is projected to negatively impact biophysical agricultural productivity in much of the world. Actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate future climate changes, are thus of central importance for agricultural production. Climate impacts are, however, not unidirectional; some crops in some regions (primarily higher latitudes) are projected to benefit, particularly if increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is assumed to strongly increase crop productivity at large spatial and temporal scales. Climate mitigation measures that are implemented by reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations lead to reductions both in the strength of climate change and in the benefits of carbon dioxide fertilization. Consequently, analysis of the effects of climate mitigation on agricultural productivity must address not only regions for which mitigation is likely to reduce or even reverse climate damages. There are also regions that are likely to see increased crop yields due to climate change, which may lose these added potentials under mitigation action. Comparing data from the most comprehensive archive of crop yield projections publicly available, we find that climate mitigation leads to overall benefits from avoided damages at the global scale and especially in many regions that are already at risk of food insecurity today. Ignoring controversial carbon dioxide fertilization effects on crop productivity, we find that for the median projection aggressive mitigation could eliminate ∼81% of the negative impacts of climate change on biophysical agricultural productivity globally by the end of the century. In this case, the benefits of mitigation typically extend well into temperate regions, but vary by crop and underlying climate model projections. Should large benefits to crop yields from carbon dioxide fertilization be realized, the effects of mitigation become much more mixed, though still positive globally and beneficial in many food insecure countries. byReferences

Open access

Global climate change impacts on forests and markets

Xiaohui Tian et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 035011

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This paper develops an economic analysis of climate change impacts in the global forest sector. It illustrates how potential future climate change impacts can be integrated into a dynamic forestry economics model using data from a global dynamic vegetation model, the MC2 model. The results suggest that climate change will cause forest outputs (such as timber) to increase by approximately 30% over the century. Aboveground forest carbon storage also is projected to increase, by approximately 26 Pg C by 2115, as a result of climate change, potentially providing an offset to emissions from other sectors. The effects of climate mitigation policies in the energy sector are then examined. When climate mitigation in the energy sector reduces warming, we project a smaller increase in forest outputs over the timeframe of the analysis, and we project a reduction in the sink capacity of forests of around 12 Pg C by 2115. byReferences

Open access

Uncertainty in future agro-climate projections in the United States and benefits of greenhouse gas mitigation

Erwan Monier et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett.11 055001

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Scientific challenges exist on how to extract information from the wide range of projected impacts simulated by crop models driven by climate ensembles. A stronger focus is required to understand and identify the mechanisms and drivers of projected changes in crop yield. In this study, we investigate the robustness of future projections of five metrics relevant to agriculture stakeholders (accumulated frost days, dry days, growing season length, plant heat stress and start of field operations). We use a large ensemble of climate simulations by the MIT IGSM-CAM integrated assessment model that accounts for the uncertainty associated with different emissions scenarios, climate sensitivities, and representations of natural variability. By the end of the century, the US is projected to experience fewer frosts, a longer growing season, more heat stress and an earlier start of field operations—although the magnitude and even the sign of these changes vary greatly by regions. Projected changes in dry days are shown not to be robust. We highlight the important role of natural variability, in particular for changes in dry days (a precipitation-related index) and heat stress (a threshold index). The wide range of our projections compares well the CMIP5 multi-model ensemble, especially for temperature-related indices. This suggests that using a single climate model that accounts for key sources of uncertainty can provide an efficient and complementary framework to the more common approach of multi-model ensembles. We also show that greenhouse gas mitigation has the potential to significantly reduce adverse effects (heat stress, risks of pest and disease) of climate change on agriculture, while also curtailing potentially beneficial impacts (earlier planting, possibility for multiple cropping). A major benefit of climate mitigation is potentially preventing changes in several indices to emerge from the noise of natural variability, even by 2100. This has major implications considering that any significant climate change impacts on crop yield would result in nation-wide changes in the agriculture sector. Finally, we argue that the analysis of agro-climate indices should more often complement crop model projections, as they can provide valuable information to better understand the drivers of changes in crop yield and production and thus better inform adaptation decisions. byReferences

Open access

Assessing climate change impacts, benefits of mitigation, and uncertainties on major global forest regions under multiple socioeconomic and emissions scenarios

John B Kim et al 2017 Environ. Res. Lett.12 045001

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We analyze a set of simulations to assess the impact of climate change on global forests where MC2 dynamic global vegetation model (DGVM) was run with climate simulations from the MIT Integrated Global System Model-Community Atmosphere Model (IGSM-CAM) modeling framework. The core study relies on an ensemble of climate simulations under two emissions scenarios: a business-as-usual reference scenario (REF) analogous to the IPCC RCP8.5 scenario, and a greenhouse gas mitigation scenario, called POL3.7, which is in between the IPCC RCP2.6 and RCP4.5 scenarios, and is consistent with a 2 °C global mean warming from pre-industrial by 2100. Evaluating the outcomes of both climate change scenarios in the MC2 model shows that the carbon stocks of most forests around the world increased, with the greatest gains in tropical forest regions. Temperate forest regions are projected to see strong increases in productivity offset by carbon loss to fire. The greatest cost of mitigation in terms of effects on forest carbon stocks are projected to be borne by regions in the southern hemisphere. We compare three sources of uncertainty in climate change impacts on the world’s forests: emissions scenarios, the global system climate response (i.e. climate sensitivity), and natural variability. The role of natural variability on changes in forest carbon and net primary productivity (NPP) is small, but it is substantial for impacts of wildfire. Forest productivity under the REF scenario benefits substantially from the CO 2 fertilization effect and that higher warming alone does not necessarily increase global forest carbon levels. Our analysis underlines why using an ensemble of climate simulations is necessary to derive robust estimates of the benefits of greenhouse gas mitigation. It also demonstrates that constraining estimates of climate sensitivity and advancing our understanding of CO 2 fertilization effects may considerably reduce the range of projections. byReferences

Of the published papers relating to climate impacts or adaptation selected for analysis, the vast majority of papers were published from 1986 onwards. The earliest paper dated from 1949 (Gentilli 1949) analysing the effects of trees on climate, water and soil. Most studies prior to 1986 (and even some published later) focused on the effects of trees on local or wider regional climate (Lal and Cummings 1979; Otterman et al. 1984; Bonan et al. 1992), the implications of climate variability (Hansenbristow et al. 1988; Ettl and Peterson 1995; Chen et al. 1999), studies of tree and forest responses across climatic gradients (Grubb and Whitmore 1966; Bongers et al. 1999; Davidar et al. 2007) or responses to historical climate (Macdonald et al. 1993; Huntley 1990; Graumlich 1993).

Twelve percent of papers (129) considered adaptation options, including 10 papers on adaptation in the forest sector. The first papers to focus on adaptation in the context of climate change were in 1996 with a number of papers published in that year (Kienast et al. 1996; Kobak et al. 1996; Dixon et al. 1996). Publications were then relatively few each year until the late 2000s with numbers increasing to 11 in 2009, 22 in 2010 and 27 in 2011. Publications on adaptation dropped to 14 papers in 2013. The ratio of adaptation-related papers has increased more recently, with 19 % of total publications on adaptation in the last 5 years. Most papers considering adaptation since the early 2000s have related to the integration of adaptation and forest management (e.g. Lindner 2000; Spittlehouse 2005; Kellomaki et al. 2008; Guariguata 2009; Bolte et al. 2009; Keskitalo 2011; Keenan 2012; Temperli et al. 2012).

Analyses of the implications of climate change for the forest sector have focused heavily on North America: Canada (Ohlson et al. 2005; Van Damme 2008; Rayner et al. 2013; Johnston et al. 2012) and the USA (Joyce et al. 1995; Blate et al. 2009; Kerhoulas et al. 2013); and Europe (Karjalainen et al. 2003; von Detten and Faber 2013). There has been a stronger consideration in recent years of social, institutional and policy issues (Ogden and Innes 2007b; Kalame et al. 2011; Nkem et al. 2010; Spies et al. 2010; Somorin et al. 2012) and the assessment of adaptive capacity in forest management organisations and in society more generally (Keskitalo 2008; Lindner et al. 2010; Bele et al. 2013a).

Regionally, there have been relatively few published journal articles on impacts or adaptation in forests in the Southern Hemisphere (Hughes et al. 1996; Williams 2000; Pinkard et al. 2010; Gonzalez et al. 2011; Mok et al. 2012; Breed et al. 2013), although there have been more studies in the grey literature for Australian forests (Battaglia et al. 2009; Cockfield et al. 2011; Medlyn et al. 2011; Stephens et al. 2012). There have been some valuable analyses for the tropics (Guariguata et al. 2008, 2012; Somorin et al. 2012; Feeley et al. 2012).

Analysis of the publications identified the following key themes: (i) predicting species and ecosystem responses to future climate, (ii) adaptation actions in forest management, (iii) new approaches and tools for decision making under uncertainty and stronger partnerships between researchers and practitioners and (iv) policy arrangements for adaptation in forest management. These are discussed in more detail below.

3.1 Predicting species and ecosystem responses to future climate

Forest managers have long used climatic information in a range of ways in planning and decision making. Climate information has been used extensively to define and map vegetation types and ecological zones and for modelling habitat distributions of vertebrates and invertebrates (Daubenmire 1978; Pojar et al. 1987; Thackway and Cresswell 1992), for species and provenance selection (Booth et al. 1988; Booth 1990) and seed zone identification (Johnson et al. 2004), for forest fire weather risk assessment and fire behaviour modelling (Carvalho et al. 2008), for modelling forest productivity (Battaglia et al. 2004) and analysing the dynamics of a range of ecological processes (Anderson 1991; Breymeyer and Melillo 1991). Predicting species responses to future climate change presents a different set of challenges, involving consideration of predictions of future climate that are often outside the historical range of variability of many species. These challenges are discussed in the next section.

3.1.1 Species responses to climate

Aitken et al. (2008) argued that there were three possible fates for forest tree populations in rapidly changing climatic conditions: persistence through spatial migration to track their ecological niches, persistence through adaptation to new conditions in current locations or the extirpation of the species. Predicting the potential fate of populations in these conditions requires the integration of knowledge across biological scales from individual genes to ecosystems, across spatial scales (for example, seed and pollen dispersal distances or breadth of species ranges) and across temporal scales from the phenology of annual developmental cycle traits to glacial and interglacial cycles.

Whilst there has been widespread use of climatic information to predict future distributions in species distribution models (SDMs, Pearson and Dawson 2003; Attorre et al. 2008; Wang et al. 2012; Ruiz-Labourdette et al. 2013), understanding of the range of climatic and non-climatic factors that will determine the future range of a particular species remains limited. Many now feel that SDMs are of limited value in adaptation decision making or species conservation strategies. Some of these limitations are summarised in Table 1.
Table 1

Limitations to species distribution models (SDMs) for predicting the impacts of climate change on forest tree species

For example, models indicate significant shifts in patterns of tree species distribution over the next century but usually without any intrinsic consideration of the biological capacity of populations to move, internal population dynamics, the extent and role of local adaptation or the effects of climate and land use (Aitken et al. 2008; Thuiller et al. 2008). In a recent study, Dobrowski et al. (2013) found that the predicted speed of movement of species to match the predicted rate of climate change appears to be well beyond the historical rates of migration. Whilst modelled outputs suggest that migration rates of 1000 m per year or higher will be necessary to track changing habitat conditions (Malcolm et al. 2002), actual migration rates in response to past change are generally considered to have been less than 100 m per year. This was reinforced by model predictions that incorporate species dispersal characteristics for five tree species in the eastern USA indicated very low probabilities of dispersal beyond 10–20 km from current species boundaries by 2100 (Iverson et al. 2004). Corlett and Westcott (2013) also argued that plant movements are not realistically represented in models used to predict future vegetation or carbon-cycle feedbacks and that fragmentation of natural systems is likely to slow migration rates.

However, these estimates do not account for the role of humans in influencing tree species distributions, which they have done for thousands of years (Clark 2007), and managed translocation may be an option for conserving many tree species, but there are significant unresolved technical and social questions about implementing translocation at a larger scale (Corlett and Westcott 2013).

Most early SDMs relied primarily on temperature envelopes to model future distribution, but factors such as precipitation and soil moisture are potentially more limiting and more important in determining distribution patterns (Dobrowski et al. 2013). Aitken et al. (2008) found that the degree to which variation in precipitation explains phenotypic variation among populations is greater in general for populations from continental than from maritime climates and greater for lower latitude than higher latitude populations. However, precipitation alone is often not a good predictor of variation and there is often a strong interaction with temperature (Andalo et al. 2005). Heat to moisture index or aridity is probably more important in determining future distribution or productivity than precipitation alone (Aitken et al. 2008; Harper et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2012). Soil properties (depth, texture and organic matter content) have a major influence on plant-available water, but few SDMs incorporate these.

Future precipitation is proving more difficult to model than temperature, due to the complex effects of topography, and there are more widely varying estimates between global circulation models (GCMs) of future change in precipitation (IPCC 2013). As such, there is more uncertainty around the extent to which moisture stress will change with warming and the extent to which natural selection pressures will change as a result. Even without changes in precipitation, increased temperatures will increase the length of growing season and potential evapotranspiration (PET) resulting in more water use over the year and greater risk plant water shortage and drought death.

Changes in the intervals of extreme events (extreme heat, cold, precipitation, humidity, wind) may also matter more than changes in the mean. Current forecasting approaches that produce future climate averages may make it difficult to detect non-linear ecosystem dynamics, or threshold effects, that could trigger abrupt ecosystem change (Campbell et al. 2009). Zimmermann et al. (2009) found that predictions of spatial patterns of tree species in Switzerland were improved by incorporating measures of extremes in addition to means in SDMs.

The risks of future climate will also depend on the management goal. If the aim is simply to conserve genetic diversity, risks of extinction or reduction in genetic diversity may be overstated by SDMs because much of the genetic variation within tree species is found within rather than among their populations, and the extinction of a relatively large proportion of a population is generally likely to result in relatively little overall loss of genetic diversity (Hamrick 2004). Local habitat heterogeneity (elevation, slope aspect, moisture, etc.) can preserve adaptive genetic variation that, when recombined and exposed to selection in newly colonised habitats, can provide for local adaptation. The longevity of individual trees can also retard population extinction and allow individuals and populations to survive until habitat recovery or because animal and wind pollination can provide levels of pollen flow that are sufficient to counteract the effects of genetic drift in fragmented populations. Consequently, widespread species with large populations, high fecundity and higher levels of phenotypic plasticity are likely to persist and adapt and have an overall greater tolerance to changing climates than predicted by SDMs (Alberto et al. 2013).

Tree species distributions have always been dynamic, responding to changing environmental conditions, and populations are likely to be sub-optimal for their current environments (Namkoong 2001; Wu and Ying 2004). These lag effects are important in predicting species responses to climate change. In a modelling study of Scots pine and silver birch, Kuparinen et al. (2010) predicted that after 100 years of climate change, the genotypic growth period length of both species will lag more than 50 % behind the climatically determined optimum. This lag is reduced by increased mortality of established trees, whereas earlier maturation and higher dispersal ability had comparatively minor effects. Thuiller et al. (2008) suggest that mechanisms for incorporating these ‘trailing edge’ effects into SDMs are a major area of research potential.

Trees are also capable of long-distance gene flow, which can have both adaptive evolution benefits and disadvantages. Kremer et al. (2012) found that there may be greater positive effects of gene flow for adaptation but that the balance of positive to negative consequences of gene flow differs for leading edge, core and rear sections of forest distributions.

Epigenetics—heritable changes that are not caused by changes in genetic sequences but by differences in the way DNA methylation controls the degree of gene expression—is another complicating factor in determining evolutionary response to climate change (Brautigam et al. 2013). For example, a recent study in Norway spruce (Picea abies) showed that the temperature during embryo development can dramatically affect cold hardiness and bud phenology in the offspring. In some cases, the offspring’s phenotype varied by the equivalent of 6° of latitude from what was expected given the geographic origin of the parents. It remains uncertain whether these traits are persistent, both within an individual’s lifetime and in its offspring and subsequent generations (Aitken et al. 2008). It is suggested that analysis of the epigenetic processes in an ecological context, or ‘ecological epigenetics’, is set to transform our understanding of the way in which organisms function in the landscape. Increased understanding of these processes can inform efforts to manage and breed tree species to help them cope with environmental stresses (Brautigam et al. 2013). Others argue that whilst investigating this evolutionary capacity to adapt is important, understanding responses of species to their changing biotic community is imperative (Anderson et al. 2012) and ‘landscape genomics’ may offer a better approach for informing management of tree populations under climate change (Sork et al. 2013).

These recent results indicate the importance of accounting for evolutionary processes in forecasts of the future dynamics and productivity of forests. Species experiencing high mortality rates or populations that are subject to regular disturbances such as storms or fires might actually be the quickest to adapt to a warming climate.

Species life history characteristics are also not usually well represented in most climate-based distribution models. Important factors include age to sexual maturity, fecundity, seed dispersal, competition or chilling or dormancy requirements (Nitschke and Innes 2008b).

Competitive relationships within and between species are likely to be altered by climate change. Most models also assume open site growth conditions, rather than those within a forest, where the growth environment will be quite different. However, increased disturbance associated with climate change may create stand reinitiation conditions more often than has occurred in the past, altering competitive interactions.

Process-based models of species range shifts and ecosystem change may capture more of the life history variables and competition effects that will be important in determining responses to climate change (Kimmins 2008; Nitschke and Innes 2008a, b). These can provide the basis for a more robust assessment framework that integrates biological characteristics (e.g. shade tolerance and seedling establishment) and disturbance characteristics (e.g. insect pests, drought and fire topkill). Matthews et al. (2011) integrated these factors into a decision support system that communicates uncertainty inherent in GCM outputs, emissions scenarios and species responses. This demonstrated a greater diversity among species to adapt to climate change and provides a more practical assessment of future species projections.

In summary, whilst SDMs and other climate-based modelling approaches can provide a guide to potential species responses, the extent to which future climate conditions will result in major range shifts or extinction of species is unclear and the value of this approach in adaptation and decision making is limited. The evidence from genetic studies seems to suggest that many species are reasonably robust to potential future climate change. Those with a wide geographic range, large populations and high fecundity may suffer local population extinction but are likely to persist and adapt whilst suffering adaptational lag for a few generations. For example, Booth (2013) considered that many eucalyptus species, some of which are widely planted around the world, had a high adaptive capacity even though their natural ranges are quite small.

However, large contractions or shifts in distribution could have significant consequences for different forest values and species with small populations, fragmented ranges, low fecundity or suffering declines due to introduced insects or diseases may have a higher sensitivity and are at greater risk in a changing climate (Aitken et al. 2008).

3.1.2 Ecosystem responses to climate

Projecting the fate of forest ecosystems under a changing climate is more challenging than for species. It has been well understood for some time that species will respond individualistically to climate change, rather than moving in concert, and that this is likely to result in ‘novel’ ecosystems, or groups of species, that are not represented in current classifications (Davis 1986). Forecasts need to consider the importance of these new species interactions and the confounding effects of future human activities.

Climate change affects a wide range of ecosystem functions and processes (Table 2). These include direct effects of temperature and precipitation on physiological and reproductive processes such as photosynthesis, water use, flowering, fruiting and regeneration, growth and mortality and litter decomposition. Changes in these processes will have effects on species attributes such as wood density or foliar nutrient status. Indirect effects will be exhibited through changing fire and other climate-driven disturbances. These will ultimately have impacts on stand composition, habitat structure, timber supply capacity, soil erosion and water yield.
Table 2

Forest ecosystem responses to elevated CO2 and climate change

Most early studies of forest ecosystem responses to climate change were built around ecosystem process models at various scales (Graham et al. 1990; Running and Nemani 1991; Rastetter et al. 1991). A number of recent studies have investigated the effects of past and current climate change on forest processes, often with surprising effects (Groffman et al. 2012).

Observed forest growth has increased recently in a number of regions, for example over the last 100 years in Europe (Pretzsch et al. 2014; Kint et al. 2012), and for more recent observations in Amazon forests (Phillips et al. 2008). In a major review, Boisvenue and Running (2006) found that at finer spatial scales, a trend is difficult to decipher, but globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity when water was not limiting. However, there can be a strong difference between species, complicating ecosystem level assessments (Michelot et al. 2012), and there are areas with little observed change (Schwartz et al. 2013). Generally, there are significant challenges in detecting the response of forests to climate change. For example, in the tropics, the lack of historical context, long-term growth records and access to data are real barriers (Clark 2007) and temperate regions also have challenges, even with well-designed, long-term experiments (Leites et al. 2012).

Projections of net primary productivity (NPP) under climate change indicate that there is likely to be a high level of regional variation (Zhao et al. 2013). Using a process model and climate scenario projections, Peters et al. (2013) predicted that average regional productivity in forests in the Great Lakes region of North America could increase from 67 to 142 %, runoff could potentially increase from 2 to 22 % and net N mineralization from 10 to 12 %. Increased productivity was almost entirely driven by potential CO2 fertilization effects, rather than by increased temperature or changing precipitation. Productivity in these forests could shift from temperature limited to water limited by the end of the century. Reyer et al. (2014) also found strong regional differences in future NPP in European forests, with potential growth increases in the north but reduced growth in southern Europe, where forests are likely to be more water limited in the future. Again, assumptions about the impact of increasing CO2 were a significant factor in this study.

In a different type of study using analysis of over 2400 long-term measurement plots, Bowman et al. (2014) found that there was a peaked response to temperature in temperate and sub-tropical eucalypt forests, with maximum growth occurring at a mean annual temperature of 11 °C and maximum temperature of the warmest month of 25–27 °C. Lower temperatures directly constrain growth, whilst high temperatures primarily reduced growth by reducing water availability but they also appeared to exert a direct negative effect. Overall, the productivity of Australia’s temperate eucalypt forests could decline substantially as the climate warms, given that 87 % of these forests currently experience a mean annual temperature above the ‘optimal’ temperature.

Incorporating the effects of rising CO2 in models of future tree growth continues to be a major challenge. The sensitivity of projected productivity to assumptions regarding increased CO2 was high in modelling studies of climate change impacts in commercial timber plantations in the Southern Hemisphere (Kirschbaum et al. 2012; Battaglia et al. 2009), and a recent analysis indicated a general convergence of different model predictions for future tree species distribution in Europe, with most of the difference between models due to the way in which this effect is incorporated (Cheaib et al. 2012). Increased CO2 has been shown to increase the water-use efficiency of trees, but this is unlikely to entirely offset the effects of increased water stress on tree growth in drying climates (Leuzinger et al. 2011; Booth 2013). In general, despite studies extending over decades and improved understanding of biochemical processes (Franks et al. 2013), the impacts of increased CO2 on tree and stand growth are still unresolved (Kallarackal and Roby 2012).

Integrating process model outputs with spatially explicit landscape models can improve understanding and projection of responses and landscape planning and this could provide for simulations of changes in ecological processes (e.g. tree growth, succession, disturbance cycles, dispersal) with other human-induced changes to landscapes (Campbell et al. 2009).

Investigation of current species responses to changing climate conditions may also guide improved prediction of patterns of future change in ecosystem distribution. For example, Allen et al. (2010) suggest that spatially explicit documentation of environmental conditions in areas of forest die-off is necessary to link mortality to causal climate drivers, including precipitation, temperature and vapour pressure deficit. Better prediction of climate responses will also require improved knowledge of belowground processes and soil moisture conditions. Assessments of future productivity will depend on accurate measurements of rates (net ecosystem exchange and NPP), changes in ecosystem level storage (net ecosystem production) and quantification of disturbances effects to determine net biome production (Boisvenue and Running 2006).

Hydrological conditions, runoff and stream flow are of critical importance for humans and aquatic organisms, and many studies have focused on the implications of climate change for these ecosystem processes. However, most of these have been undertaken at small catchment scale (Mahat and Anderson 2013; Neukum and Azzam 2012; Zhou et al. 2011) with few basin-scale assessments (van Dijk and Keenan 2007). However, the effects of climate and forest cover change on hydrology are complicated. Loss of tree cover may increase stream flow but can also increase evaporation and water loss (Guardiola-Claramonte et al. 2011). The extent of increasing wildfire will also be a major factor determining hydrological responses to climate change (Versini et al. 2013; Feikema et al. 2013).

Changing forest composition will also affect the habitat of vertebrate and invertebrate species. The implications of climate change for biodiversity conservation have been subject to extensive analysis (Garcia et al. 2014; Vihervaara et al. 2013; Schaich and Milad 2013; Clark et al. 2011; Heller and Zavaleta 2009; Miles et al. 2004). An integrated analytical approach, considering both impacts on species and habitat is important. For example, in a study of climate change impacts on bird habitat in the north-eastern USA, the combination of changes in tree distribution and habitat for birds resulted in significant impacts for 60 % of the species. However, the strong association of birds with certain vegetation tempers their response to climate change because localised areas of suitable habitat may persist even after the redistribution of tree species (Matthews et al. 2011).

Understanding thresholds in changing climate conditions that are likely to result in a switch to a different ecosystem state, and the mechanisms that underlie ecosystem responses, will be critical for forest managers (Campbell et al. 2009). Identifying these thresholds of change is challenging. Detailed process-based ecosystem research that identifies and studies critical species interactions and feedback loops, coupled with scenario modelling of future conditions, could provide valuable insights (Kimmins et al. 1999, 2008; Walker and Meyers 2004). Also, rather than pushing systems across thresholds into alternative states, climate change may create a stepwise progression to unknown transitional states that track changing climate conditions, requiring a more graduated approach in management decisions (Lin and Petersen 2013).

Ultimately, management decisions may not be driven by whether we can determine future thresholds of change, but by observing the stressors that determine physiological limits of species distributions. These thresholds will depend on species physiology and local site conditions, with recent research demonstrating already observed ecosystem responses to climate change, including die-back of some species (Allen et al. 2010; Rigling et al. 2013).

3.1.3 Fire, pests, invasive species and disturbance risks

Many of the impacts of a changing future climate are likely to be felt through changing disturbance regimes, in particular fire. Forest fire weather risk and fire behaviour prediction have been two areas where there has been strong historical interaction between climate science and forest management and where we may see major tipping points driving change in ecosystem composition (Adams 2013). Fire weather is fundamentally under the control of large-scale climate conditions with antecedent moisture anomalies and large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, further exacerbated by configuration of local winds, driving fire weather (Brotak and Reifsnyder 1977; Westerling et al. 2002, 2006). It is therefore important to improve understanding of both short- and long-term atmospheric conditions in determining meteorological fire risk (Amraoui et al. 2013).

Increased fuel loads and changes to forest structure due to long periods of fire exclusion and suppression are increasing fire intensity and limiting capacity to control fires under severe conditions (Williams 2004, 2013). Increasing urbanisation is increasing the interface between urban populations and forests in high fire risk regions, resulting in greater impacts of wildfire on human populations, infrastructure and assets (Williams 2004). Deforestation and burning of debris and other types of human activities are also introducing fire in areas where it was historically relatively rare (Tacconi et al. 2007).

In a recent study, Chuvieco et al. (2014) assessed ecosystem vulnerability to fire using an index based on ecological richness and fragility, provision of ecosystem services and value of houses in the wildland–urban interface. The most vulnerable areas were found to be the rainforests of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia; the temperate forest of Europe, South America and north-east America; and the ecological corridors of Central America and Southeast Asia.

In general, fire management policies in many parts of the world will need to cope with longer and more severe fire seasons, increasing fire frequency, and larger areas exposed to fire risk. This will especially be the case in the Mediterranean region of Europe (Kolström et al. 2011) and other fire-prone parts of the world such as South Eastern Australia (Hennessy et al. 2005). This will require improved approaches to fire weather modelling and behaviour prediction that integrate a more sophisticated understanding of the climate system with local knowledge of topography, vegetation and wind patterns. It will also require the development of fire management capacity where it had previously not been necessary. Increased fire weather severity could push current suppression capacity beyond a tipping point, resulting in a substantial increase in large fires (de Groot et al. 2013; Liu et al. 2010) and increased investment in resources and management efforts for disaster prevention and recovery.

Biotic factors may be more important than direct climate effects on tree populations in a changing climate. For example, insects and diseases have much shorter generation length and are able to adapt to new climatic conditions more rapidly than trees. However, if insects move more rapidly to a new environment whilst tree species lag, some parts of the tree population may be impacted less in the future (Regniere 2009).

The interaction of pests, diseases and fire will also be important. For example, this interaction will potentially determine the vulnerability of western white pine (Pinus monticola) ecosystems in Montana in the USA. Loehman et al. (2011) found that warmer temperatures will favour western white pine over existing climax and shade tolerant species, mainly because warmer conditions will lead to increased frequency and extent of wildfires that facilitates regeneration of this species.

3.2 Adaptation actions in forest management

The large majority of published studies relating to forests and climate change have been on vulnerability and impacts. These have increased understanding of the various relationships between forest ecosystems and climate and improved capacity to predict and assess ecosystem responses. However, managers need greater guidance in anticipating and responding to potential impacts of climate change and methods to determine the efficiency and efficacy of different management responses because they are generally not responding sufficiently to potential climate risks.

3.2.1 Adaptation actions at different management levels

A number of recent reviews have described adaptation actions and their potential application in different forest ecosystems being managed for different types of goods or services (Bernier and Schöne 2009; Innes et al. 2009; Lindner et al. 2010; Kolström et al. 2011), and adaptation guides and manuals have been developed (Peterson et al. 2011; Stephens et al. 2012) for different types of forest and jurisdictions. Adaptation actions can be primarily aimed at reducing vulnerability to increasing threats or shocks from natural disasters or extreme events, or increasing resilience and capacity to respond to progressive change or climate extremes. Adaptation actions can be reactive to changing conditions or planned interventions that anticipate future change. They may involve incremental changes to existing management systems or longer term transformational changes (Stafford Smith et al. 2011). Adaptation actions can also be applied at the stand level or at ownership, estate or national scales (Keskitalo 2011).

Recent research at the stand level in forests in the SE USA showed that forest thinning, often recommended in systems that are likely to experience increased temperature and decreased precipitation as a result of climate change, will need to be more aggressive than traditionally practised to stimulate growth of large residual trees, improve drought resistance and provide greater resilience to future climate-related stress (Kerhoulas et al. 2013).

An analysis of three multi-aged stand-level options in Nova Scotia, Canada, Steenberg et al. (2011) found that leaving sexually immature trees to build stand complexity had the most benefit for timber supply but was least effective in promoting resistance to climate change at the prescribed harvest intensity. Varying the species composition of harvested trees proved the most effective treatment for maximising forest age and old-growth area and for promoting stands composed of climatically suited target species. The combination of all three treatments resulted in an adequate representation of target species and old forest without overly diminishing the timber supply and was considered most effective in minimising the trade-offs between management values and objectives.

An estate level analysis of Austrian Federal Forests indicated that management to promote mixed stands of species that are likely to be well adapted to emerging environmental conditions, silvicultural techniques fostering complexity and increased management intensity might successfully reduce vulnerability, with the timing of adaptation measures important to sustain supply of forest goods and services (Seidl et al. 2011).

Whilst researchers are analysing different management options, the extent to which they are being implemented in practice is generally limited. For example, in four regions in Germany, strategies for adapting forest management to climate change are in the early stages of development or simply supplement existing strategies relating to general risk reduction or to introduce more ‘nature-orientated’ forest management (Milad et al. 2013). Guariguata et al. (2012) found that forest managers across the tropics perceived that natural and planted forests are at risk from climate change but were ambivalent about the value of investing in adaptation measures, with climate-related threats to forests ranked below others such as clearing for commercial agriculture and unplanned logging.

Community-based management approaches are often argued to be the most successful approach for adaptation. An analysis of 38 community forestry organisations in British Columbia found that 45 % were researching adaptation and 32 % were integrating adaptation techniques into their work (Furness and Nelson 2012). Whilst these community forest managers appreciated support and advice from government for adaptation, balancing this advice with autonomy for communities to make their own decisions was considered challenging.

In a study of communities impacted by drought in the forest zone of Cameroon, Bele et al. (2013b) identified adaptive strategies such as community-created firebreaks to protect their forests and farms from forest fires, the culture of maize and other vegetables in dried swamps, diversifying income activities or changing food regimes. However, these coping strategies were considered to be incommensurate with the rate and magnitude of change being experienced and therefore no longer seen as useful. Some adaptive actions, whilst effective, were resource inefficient and potentially translate pressure from one sector to another or generated other secondary effects that made them undesirable.

3.2.2 Integrating adaptation and mitigation

In considering responses to climate change, forest managers will generally be looking for solutions that address both mitigation objectives and adaptation. To maintain or increase forest carbon stocks over the long term, the two are obviously inextricably linked (Innes et al. 2009). Whilst there are potentially strong synergies, Locatelli et al. (2011) identified potential trade-offs between actions to address mitigation and the provision of local ecosystem services and those for adaptation. They argued that mitigation projects can facilitate or hinder the adaptation of local people to climate change, whereas adaptation projects can affect ecosystems and their potential to sequester carbon.

Broadly, there has been little integration to date of mitigation and adaptation objectives in climate policy. For example, there is little connection between policies supporting the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus (REDD+) initiatives and adaptation. Integrating adaptation into REDD+ can advance climate change mitigation goals and objectives for sustainable forest management (Long 2013). Kant and Wu (2012) considered that adaptation actions in tropical forests (protection against fire and disease, ensuring adequate regeneration and protecting against coastal impacts and desertification) will improve future forest resilience and have significant climate change mitigation value.

3.2.3 Sector-level adaptation

Analyses of climate change impacts and vulnerability at the sector level have been undertaken for some time (Lindner et al. 2002; Johnston and Williamson 2007; Joyce 2007). However, it has recently been argued (Wellstead et al. 2014) that these assessments, which focus on macro system-level variables and relationships, fail to account for the multi-level or polycentric nature of governance and the possibility that policy processes may result in the non-performance of critical tasks required for adaptation.

Joyce et al. (2009) considered that a toolbox of management options for the US National Forests would include the following: practices focused on reducing future climate change effects by building resistance and resilience into current ecosystems and on managing for change by enabling plants, animals and ecosystems to adapt to climate change. Sample et al. (2014) demonstrated the utility of this approach in a coniferous forest management unit in northwestern USA. It provided an effective means for guiding management decisions and an empirical basis for setting budgetary and management priorities. In general, more widespread implementation of already known practices that reduce the impact of existing stressors represents an important ‘no regrets’ strategy.

Johnston and Hesseln (2012) found that barriers to implementing adaptation across forest sector managers in Canada included inflexible tenure arrangements and regulatory environments which do not support innovation. Echoing calls for wider implementation of SFM as a key adaptation strategy (Innes et al. 2009), they argued that forest certification systems, participating in the Canadian model forest programme, and adopting criteria and indicators of SFM can support sectoral level adaptation.

Decentralised management approaches are considered to be a more appropriate governance arrangement for forest management, but Rayner et al. (2013) argued that a decentralised forest policy sector in Canada has resulted in limitations where policy, such as adaptation, requires a coherent national response. Climate change adaptation has led to an expansion of departmental mandates that is not being addressed by better coordination of the available policy capacity. Relevant federal agencies are not well represented in information networks, and forest policy workers report lower levels of internal and external networking than workers in related policy subsectors.

Economic diversification can be a valuable strategy to improve resilience to climate-related shocks. This can take a range of forms: developing new industries or different types of forest-based industries based on different goods or services. For the timber sector, the value of diversification as a risk management strategy for communities is open to question. Ince et al. (2011) pointed out that the forest sector operates in an international market and is susceptible to changes in the structure of this market. In the US forest sector, globalization has accelerated structural change, favouring larger and more capital-intensive enterprises and altering historical patterns of resource use. They suggest that future markets for timber will be driven by developments in these larger scale enterprises and may not lead to expansion of opportunities for smaller scale forest enterprises because development of niche markets or customised products is likely to be pursued aggressively by larger globally oriented enterprises to develop branding, product identity and product value. How to best diversify for adaptation therefore remains an open question.

Consequently, whilst policies that support economic diversification will be important, this may involve diversification well beyond traditional sectors. For example, in areas where there is a high probability that forests will be lost in favour of other ecosystems, such as grasslands, managers should recognise early on that their efforts and resources may best be focused outside forests (Innes et al. 2009). These adjustments will involve taking into account the perceptions of climate risk by various stakeholders, including individuals, communities, governments, private institutions and organisations (Adger et al. 2007). Vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures also need to be developed in a framework that takes into account the vulnerabilities and actions in other sectors that are linked to the forest sector, such as food, energy, health and water (Sonwa et al. 2012).

3.3 New approaches to decision making

Climate change presents new challenges for forest managers. Change is likely to happen faster than traditional, empirical approaches can provide evidence to support changes in management. Uncertainties in a range of aspects of future climate may also not be reduced through investment in research. Given that management for activities such as timber production can no longer be based solely on empirically derived growth and yield trajectories and management plans must incorporate uncertainty and the increased probability of extreme events, what types of tools are available to support these approaches? This section presents key points from the literature on decision making under uncertainty, adaptive management and resilience as a guide to future decision making in forest management.

3.3.1 Decision making under uncertainty

The future conditions for forest managers are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, and the future prospects for reducing these large uncertainties are limited. There is uncertainty regarding the trajectory of future increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, what kind of effects these might have on the climate system and the effects of climatic changes on ecological and social systems and their capacity to adapt (see Fig. 2) (Wilby and Dessai 2010).

Consequently, many forest managers consider that the future situation is too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Dessai and Hulme (2004) argued that uncertainty per se should not be a reason for inaction. However, the critical issue for managers is deciding the types of actions to take and the timing and conditions under which they should be taken (Ogden and Innes 2007a). A more reactive ‘wait and see’ approach (or ‘purposeful procrastination’) might be justified if uncertainty or costs are high relative to the expected impacts and risks, or if it is cheaper to implement interventions by waiting until after a significant disturbance (e.g. replanting an area with more fire- or drought-resistant tree species after a wildfire or drought-induced insect outbreak).

Effective adaptation requires setting clear objectives. Managers and policy makers need to decide whether they are trying to facilitate ecosystem adaptation through changing species composition or forest structure or trying to engineer resistance to change through proactive management strategies (Joyce et al. 2008). Establishing objectives often depends on the integration of the preferences of different stakeholders (Prato 2008), but changing social preferences presents another source of potential uncertainty.

Risk assessment and management provide a foundation for decision making in considering climate change in natural resource management. This approach provides both a qualitative and quantitative framework for evaluating climate change effects and adaptation options. Incorporating risk management approaches into forest management plans can provide a basis for managers to continue to provide forest conditions that meet a range of important values (Day and Perez 2013).

However, risk approaches generally requiring assigning probabilities to future events. In a comprehensive review, Yousefpour et al. (2011) identified a growing body of research literature on decision making under uncertainty, much of which has focused on price uncertainty and variation in timber production but is extending to multiple forest management objectives and other types of risk. They argue that we are actually in a stochastic transition from one known stable (but variable) climate state to a new but largely unknown and likely more rapidly changing set of future conditions.

Decision makers themselves may also not be the rational actors assumed by these models, with their decisions taken according to quite different assumptions, preferences and beliefs (Ananda and Herath 2009; Couture and Reynaud 2008). Therefore, the communication approach will be important in determining whether the information is acted on. In a recent study, Yousefpour et al. (2014) considered that the speed with which decision makers will form firm beliefs about future climate depends on the divergence among climate trajectories, the speed of change and short-term climate variability. Using a Bayesian modelling approach, they found that if a large change in climate occurs, the value of investing in knowledge and taking an adaptive approach would be positive and higher than a non-adaptive approach. In communicating about uncertainty, it may be better to focus discussion on the varying time in the future when things will happen, rather than on whether they will happen at all (Lindner et al. 2014).

Increased investment in climate science and projections or species distribution modelling may not necessarily decrease uncertainty in climate projections or impacts. Climate models are best viewed as heuristic tools rather than as accurate forecasts of the future (Innes et al. 2009). Trajectories of change in many other drivers of forest management (social, political or economic) are also highly uncertain (Keskitalo 2008) and the effects of these on the projected performance of management can be the same order of magnitude, requiring an integrated social-ecological perspective to adaptation (Seidl and Lexer 2013).

In a more ‘decision-centred’ approach, plausible scenarios of the potential range of future conditions are required. These can be derived from climate models but do not need to be accurate and precise ‘predictions’ of future climate states (Wilby and Dessai 2010). To support this type of approach, research needs to focus on improved understanding of tree and ecosystem responses and identifying those aspects of climate to which different forest types are most sensitive.

Devising strategies that are able to meet management objectives under a range of future scenarios is likely to be the most robust approach, recognising that these strategies are unlikely to be optimal under all future conditions. In some cases, the effect of different scenarios on forest growth may not be that great and differences in the present value of different management options are relatively small. For example, Eriksson et al. (2011) found that there was limited benefit in attempting to optimise management plans in accordance with future temperature scenarios.

Integration of climate change science and adaptation in forest management planning is considered important for building resilience in forest social and ecological systems (Keskitalo 2011; D’Amato et al. 2011; Chmura et al. 2011; Parks and Bernier 2010; Lindner et al. 2014). Forest restoration is becoming a more prominent aspect of forest management in many parts of the world and restoration approaches will also need to integrate understanding of future climate change to be successful (Stanturf et al. 2014).

3.3.2 Adaptive management, resilience and decisions

Adaptive management provides a mechanism to move forward when faced with future uncertainty (Innes et al. 2009). It can be viewed as a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by monitoring and then learning from the outcomes of operational programmes as a basis for incorporating adaptation actions into forest management. Whilst many management initiatives purport to implement these principles, they often lack essential characteristics of the approach (Innes et al. 2009).

However, effective adaptation to changing climate cannot simply involve adaptive management as it is currently understood. The pace of climate change is not likely to allow for the use of management as a tool to learn about the system by implementing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning known uncertainties (Holling 1978). Future climatic conditions may result in system states and dynamics that have never previously existed (Stainforth et al. 2007), so observation of past experience may be a poor guide for future action. Management will need to be more ‘forward-looking’, considering the range of possible future conditions and planning actions that consider that full range.


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