Importance of colonization and competition in forest landscape response to global climatic change

Chonggang Xu, George Z. Gertner, Robert M. Scheller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tree species composition of a forested landscape may respond to climate change through two primary successional mechanisms: (1) colonization of suitable habitats and (2) competitive dynamics of established species. In this study, we assessed the relative importance of competition and colonization in forest landscape response (as measured by the forest type composition change) to global climatic change. Specifically, we simulated shifts in forest composition within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota during the period 2000-2400 AD. We coupled a forest ecosystem process model, PnET-II, and a spatially dynamic forest landscape model, LANDIS-II, to simulate landscape change. The relative ability of 13 tree species to colonize suitable habitat was represented by the probability of establishment or recruitment. The relative competitive ability was represented by the aboveground net primary production. Both competitive and colonization abilities changed over time in response to climatic change. Our results showed that, given only moderate-frequent windthrow (rotation period=500 years) and fire disturbances (rotation period = 300 years), competition is relatively more important for the short-term (<100 years) compositional response to climatic change. For longer-term forest landscape response (>100 years), colonization became relatively more important. However, if more frequent fire disturbances were simulated, then colonization is the dominant process from the beginning of the simulations. Our results suggest that the disturbance regime will affect the relative strengths of successional drivers, the understanding of which is critical for future prediction of forest landscape response to global climatic change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-83
Number of pages31
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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