Graduate Student, Yale University
Projections suggest that a period of rapid climatic transition is underway in northern latitude forests, supported by empirical evidence from both meteorological and ecological studies. Initial research from boreal Russia hypothesized that warming would increase ecosystem productivity as thermal limitations were lifted and growing season length extended. However, recent research indicates a more incoherent picture of ecosystem response to a warming climate, and non-linear responses have been observed. Change has also been documented in disturbance patterns—including fire regimes, which are becoming more frequent and more severe in certain areas. Much of the existing research has focused on the northern or leading edge of the boreal, but what happens at the southern or trailing edge will affect the lives and livelihoods of a great many more people through changes in forest resources and ecosystem services. Our research is set in Mongolia, along the southern ecotone of the Eurasian boreal, and examines the interaction between forests, climate and fire. Some of the questions we are investigating are 1) does the tree-ring record show spatial and/or temporal trends in forest productivity, and if so, can these trends be linked to climate change? 2) What is the fire regime in this region, is it regionally synchronous, and if so, can that synchrony be linked to climate? And 3) how do fire and climate synchronize or otherwise affect forest establishment and demography? To answer these questions we are using cores, sections and fire scar samples from over 1500 trees across a study area approximately the size of Montana. We are contextualizing this ecological data with documented knowledge of recent socio-political and land-use change.