Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y081200

    Assessing ecosystem vulnerability to climate change from the tree- to stand- to landscape-level
Project lead: Nitschke, Craig (Bulkley Valley Centre for Natural Resources Research and Management )
Author: Nitschke, Craig R.
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
Achieving sustainable forest management (SFM) has many requirements, which differ from region to region, however one common aspect is the assumption of environmental stasis. This is an illogical assumption since changes in the environment have always occurred and will continue to do so in the future. Currently, projected changes in climate include increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events. These changes will influence ecosystems directly and indirectly via changes in the frequency and intensity of fires, pests and diseases [1]. Ambiguity in predicted changes along with the conventional management philosophy has created a situation where resource managers often simply ignore climate change. However, the recent linking of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the dothistroma outbreak in northwest BC to climate change [2, 3] and the predicted increases in fire season length and severity [4] has made climate change an increasingly salient issue with forest managers. Climate change is a stressor that will directly or indirectly influence the processes that impact ecosystems. Ecosystems are the basic units of nature on earth and are created from the interaction between the biotic and abiotic components of its environment [5]. Changes in any biophysical component can alter the stable dynamic equilibrium that exists between biotic and abiotic components leading to creation of new ecosystems [5]. Ecosystems provide the foundations for SFM, any process that results in a restructuring of controlling variables and processes will destroy or weaken the foundation from which current ecological services are provided. A restructuring of controlling variables and processes can shift an ecosystem to a new stable state [6]. The ability of an ecosystem to recover from disturbances and persist under changes in climate is referred to as ecological resilience [7]. Management actions that maintain or expand the resilience of an ecosystem to shifts in climate are required if ecosystem functionality is to be sustained. To determine how to maintain ecosystem resilience an understanding of ecosystem vulnerabilities is required. Gaining this understanding is an important step if we are to determine where and what adaptation strategies are to be incorporated into long-term forest planning and to providing guidance on how to manage for the risks associated with climatic change. The ability to achieve a sustainable forest industry will rely on our understanding of ecosystem vulnerability to climate change. Gaining an understanding of how climate change may influence ecosystem resilience is also an essential foundation for determining how climate change will influence forest health and condition and growth and yield from the stand to the landscape-level.
We propose to address this important principle by: (1) applying a tree and climate assessment model, TACA [8], to assess species and ecosystem resilience to climate change in the Sub Boreal Spruce zone near Smithers, BC; (2) apply TACA to assess how climate change will impact a site’s moisture regime (site type); (3) link the results of TACA to a stand-level forest dynamics model, SORTIE-ND, to predict how changes in site type and species resilience will affect stand-level competition, development and growth and yield under climate change; and, (4) use the results from TACA and SORTIE-ND to investigate the impact of climate change and disturbances (e.g. mountain pine beetle, dothistroma fungus, root rot fungus and fire) at the landscape-level.
References: [1]: Gitay, H., et al. 2002. Climate Change and Biodiversity. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Technical Paper V. [2]: Carroll, A.L., et al. 2004. Effects of climate change on range expansion by the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia. Pp 223-232, In: T.L. Shore, et al. (Eds.); Mountain Pine Beetle Symposium: Challenges and Solutions. Natural Resources Canada Information Report BC-X-399. [3]: Woods, A., et al. 2005. Is an unprecedented Dothistroma needle blight epidemic related to climate change? Bioscience 55: 761-769. [4]: Flannigan, M., et al. 2003. Fire regimes and climatic change in Canadian forests. In: Fire and Climatic Change in Temperate Ecosystems of the Western Americas. Ecological Studies 160, Springer. [5]: Tansley, A.G. 1935. The use and abuse of vegetational concepts and terms. Ecology 16: 284-307. [6]: Gunderson, L.H., et al. 2002. Resilience of large-scale resource systems. In: SCOPE 60: Resilience and Behaviour of Large-Scale Systems. Island Press, Washington, USA. [7]: Holling, C.S. 1996. Engineering resilience versus ecological resilience. In: Engineering with Ecological Constraints. National Academy Press, USA. [8]: Nitschke, C.R. 2006. Integrating Climate Change into Forest Planning: A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Landscape Vulnerability. PhD dissertation, University of British Columbia, Canada.
Related projects:  FSP_Y092200FSP_Y103220
Contact: Nitschke, Craig, (604) 916-0524,


Executive Summary (22Kb)

To view PDF documents you need Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from the Adobe Web Site.

Updated August 16, 2010 

Search for other  FIA reports or other Ministry of Forests and Range publications.

Please direct questions or comments regarding publications to