Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y113076

    Effects of climate change on high-elevation plant communities and their ecological processes
Project lead: Suzanne Simard (University of British Columbia)
Author: Osorio, Federico G.
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
This project is being conducted by UBC MSc-PhD student, Federico Osorio, under the supervision of UBC Professor Suzanne Simard, committee members Will McKenzie (MOFR) and Gary Bradfield (UBC), and regional ecologist Ray Coupé (MOFR). There are two main phases of the project: a) description and classification of high-elevation ecosystems (underway) and, b) establishment of permanent installations for monitoring and evaluating vegetation responses to climate change. The first phase is addressing the high degree of variability of high-elevation ecosystems by organizing the vegetation into hierarchical units to produce ecologically meaningful classes that can be identified and mapped; these classes will provide a basis for sound management of forested and non-forested ecosystems. This biogeoclimatic classification will then be used to select representative ecosystems for the second phase of the study, to monitor climate change effects on high-elevation ecosystems. The two phases of this proposed research will increase our understanding of the basic character of high-elevation ecosystems and their response to predicted warming trends.
Since high-elevation environments respond rapidly to minute changes in climate they provide realistic means for assessing whether the climate in British Columbia will follow predicted global patterns of change or whether other conditions (e.g. increased snowfall) can counteract global warming at a local scale. The results of the research project well help land managers and scientists determine how the ecology of the province might respond to human induced changes in regional climates, including how the forests of British Columbia might change in composition and distribution under new climatic conditions. As most of the ecosystems in the province depend on high-elevation snow catchments to meet growing season water requirements, the project also has implications for understanding how the hydrological conditions of our ecosystems might respond to changes in snow melt timings and new water uptake capacities.
The project began in May, 2007, when Federico conducted a thorough survey (90 relevé plots, 45 soil samples, snow-water equivalents and snow depths measurements) of the Columbia Mountain study area. The observed ecosystems are being identified, organized, and characterized following biogeoclimatic principals to formulate generalizations leading to a site-specific classification. This work continued in 2008, when we further identified, sampled, and described the main parkland and alpine subzones within the Central Cariboo, 100-Mile House, and Quesnel Forest Districts. The preliminary classification and reconnaissance of the study area served as the basis for the site selection process for the second phase of the research. Capturing the current botanical character of the alpine and subalpine will also allow future researchers to determine how the ecosystems have changed. The proposed research will compliment the initial classification conducted at the biogeoclimatic unit level because it provides a more standardized and quantitative measure of vegetation at the site level, which can be used to refine the classification. Also, it provides a basis for long-term monitoring of soil temperature and date of snow-melt, which in turn will be used to understand the variety of site types and their resulting vegetation units.
Beginning in 2008 and completing in 2009, is the establishment of permanent monitoring installations following the published protocol currently used world-wide, Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA; see website purpose of the GLORIA research initiative is to establish a long-term observation network to obtain standardized data on alpine biodiversity and vegetation patterns on a global scale. The collected data can help researchers world-wide analyze the risks of biodiversity losses and the vulnerability of high mountain ecosystems, as well as to determine the seasonal rates of change in the distribution of vegetation that might result from human-induced climate change. Alpine environments are unique in that they occur at all latitudes around the globe; therefore, it is the only terrestrial ecosystem that can be compared at a global scale for changes along climatic gradients (altitude, latitude, and longitude). The standardized methodology aims at analyzing the patterns of species richness, abundance and vegetation cover along altitudinal gradients across mountain regions of the world. The relation of these patterns to environmental gradients will be analyzed at local and global scales by GLORIA scientists, and monitored to determine the potential effects of climate change on high elevation ecosystems.
Integrating British Columbia’s biogeoclimatic ecosystem classification into the GLORIA research design will help us identify the potential threats of climate change to species, species groups,
Related projects:  FSP_Y091076FSP_Y102076


VPro database of plot details (1.4Mb)
Executive summary (64Kb)
Note on correction to plot names (1Kb)
Final Technical Report (10.9Mb)
Listing of images associated with this project (0.1Mb)
Snow survey results (4.0Mb)
2-pager on some Secwepemc food plants (13.4Mb)

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Updated May 19, 2011 

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