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Forecast and parameter chain: A mid-century ecological forecast with partitioned uncertainty predicts increases in loblolly pine forest productivity

posted on 2021-02-24, 09:27 authored by Quinn Thomas
Ecological forecasting of forest productivity involves integrating observations into a process-based model and propagating the dominant components of uncertainty to generate probability distributions for future states and fluxes. Here we develop a forecast for the biomass change in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forests of the Southeastern U.S and evaluate the relative contribution of different forms of uncertainty to the total forecast uncertainty. Specifically, we assimilated observations of carbon and flux stocks and fluxes from sites across the region, including global change experiments, into a forest ecosystem model to calibrate the parameter distributions and estimate the process uncertainty (i.e., model structure uncertainty revealed in the residuals of the calibration). Using this calibration, we forecasted the change in biomass within each 12-digit Hydrologic (H12) unit across the native range of loblolly pine between 2010 and 2055 under the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 scenario. Averaged across the region, productivity is predicted to increase by a mean of 31% between 2010 and 2055 with an average forecast 95% quantile interval of ± 15 percentage units. The largest increases were predicted in cooler locations, corresponding to the largest projected changes in temperature. The forecasted mean change varied considerably among the H12 units (3 - 80% productivity increase), but only units in the warmest and driest extents of the loblolly pine range had forecast distributions with probabilities of a decline in productivity that exceeded 5%. By isolating the individual components of the forecast uncertainty, we found that ecosystem model process uncertainty made the largest individual contribution. Ecosystem model parameter and climate model uncertainty had similar contributions to the overall forecast uncertainty, but with differing spatial patterns across the study region. The probabilistic framework developed here could be modified to include additional sources of uncertainty, including changes due to fire, insects, and pests - processes that would result in lower productivity changes than forecasted here. Overall, this study presents an ecological forecast at the ecosystem management scale so that land managers can explicitly account for uncertainty in decision analysis. Furthermore, it highlights that future work should focus on quantifying, propagating, and reducing ecosystem model process uncertainty.



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