Title: Collaborative Research: Do microenvironments govern macroecology?
PI: Frank Davis, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, UC Santa
Lead Institution: UC Santa Barbara
Collaborators: UC Riverside, UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, Arizona State
University, Conservation Biology Institute, Desert Research Institute, Conservation
How do climate and plant growing conditions vary locally in mountainous
regions of the western U.S., and how will this variability affect the vulnerability of
tree species to climate change? This 5-year research project engages an
interdisciplinary team of climate scientists, ecologists, hydrologists and
biogeographers to investigate how local climate patterns may determine regional
plant species persistence and migration rates under rapid climate change.
Currently, historical climate data and models used to forecast future climates are
too coarse to depict the finer-scale spatial variability that is ecologically important
to plant communities. Moreover, there is scant knowledge of how species
colonization and growth differs between local climates or how that variation
influences regional population abundance. This project couples field studies of
microclimate and tree establishment and growth with regional climate modeling and
spatial models of plant population and fire dynamics. Our intent is to bridge climate
and ecological processes from the scale of individual trees to regional populations.
Linked climate and plant population models, parameterized with field
measurements, will be used to simulate changes in regional distribution and
abundance of ecologically and economically important tree species under climate
change in California, a topographically complex and ecologically diverse region.
Study sites include a National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) core study
area and a U.S. Forest Service Experimental watershed in the central Sierra
Nevada, as well as a University of California Natural Reserve in the southern Coast
Ranges. Study species include two tree species that currently dominate warm, dry
foothill woodlands (blue oak, gray pine) and two species that dominate cool, moist
montane forests (black oak, ponderosa pine).
Understanding and forecasting climate change effects on tree species is
especially important given the role of forests in carbon cycling, timber production,
water resources, and biodiversity. The insights provided by this research have the
potential to revise estimates of extinction risk due to climate change, refine
understanding of tree species' ability to migrate and track rapid climate change,
and improve predictions of how economically important tree species will respond to
climate change and associated changes in wildfire risk. The research will be closely
coordinated with NEON to take advantage of other NEON studies and to supply
NEON investigators with valuable local climate, soils, and vegetation
measurements. At least three doctoral students and three postdoctoral scholars will
be trained over the life of the project, preparing the next generation of scientists to
tackle future environmental challenges. The project involves governmental and
NGO researchers who strengthen research linkages to public and private land
managers, policy makers, and non-Government organizations. This will ensure that
research results will be translated to better adaptive management of public and
private forest resources in the face of climate change.