Broadscale disturbance and the use of near-term climatic predictability to improve treatments and successional outcomes
Under current climatic projections using a business-as-usual emissions scenario (RCP 8), climate variability may be more important than climate change at a regional scale for at least the next couple of decades. If fast advances were made in predicting climate variability over the near term (for the purpose of this discussion: seasonal, interannual, and decadal), do we know enough to forecast the ecological consequences and optimize management decisions? Among the consequences for forests are ecological disturbances (e.g., fire, insect and pathogen outbreaks, and drought-induced tree mortality), changed successional pathways, and the success or failure of both short and long-term management prescriptions in a world that is not only varying but also changing in directional ways. Whether or not we can forecast the ecological consequences of near-term climate variability has never been a central question in ecology, and this oversight now presents difficult challenges. From studies of tree rings, and in the few instances where routine and standardized biological observations have been made synoptically and over the long term, we know that the highest signal-to-noise ratio in ecological responses to climate lies in population synchrony at the mesoscale. Yet ecologists have seldom invested in monitoring phenology, growth, and demography at the same spatiotemporal scales that we monitor and study weather and climate. This mismatch in monitoring biology and climate presents a significant obstacle to understanding, modeling, and forecasting how seasonal to decadal climate variability drives ecological phenomena and how this can inform forest management.
In my presentation, I will address two key aspects to my question, identify main challenges, and provide some concrete examples: (1) What are current prospects and limitations for near-term climate predictability, and where might we expect significant advances? (2) To what degree are ecologists and managers taking full advantage of currently available deterministic and probabilistic approaches to forecasting near-term climate, in ways that are custom-fitted for addressing forest science and management questions? Given limitations in both climatic and ecological predictability, I will provide examples where current and anticipated capacity to predict seasonal to decadal climatic variability could improve strategic planning and scheduling of treatments over regional landscapes to manage large-scale disturbances and engineer the products of succession in a varying and changing climate.