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Publisher: DigitalCommons@USU
Types: Article
Subjects: Environmental Sciences, Forest Sciences
The climate changes projected for the future will have significant consequences for forest ecosystems and our ability to manage them. It is reasonable to ask: Are there historical precedents that help us understand what might happen in the future or are historical perspectives becoming irrelevant? What synergisms and feedbacks might be expected between rapidly changing climate and land–use in different settings, especially at the wildland–urban interface? What lessons from the past might help us plan for a changing world? Information on forest history comes from a variety of sources, including pollen and charcoal preserved in lake sediments spanning millennia, variations in tree–ring growth indices spanning centuries, and recent forest dynamics. In the last 10 years, considerable paleo–research has focused on the ecological consequences of abrupt climate change, and records of past forest conditions are often detailed enough to describe changes occurring on time scales of years to decades. From this rich and well–resolved database, we can find examples of rapid environmental change in the past, similar to that projected for the future, and examine the ecological consequences that ensued. Studies from the western U.S. and beyond reveal the synergistic effects of past climate and land–use change in shaping present forest composition and dynamics. In addition, networks of paleoecologic sites disclose regional and global patterns of vegetation and disturbance regimes and the widespread responses to large–scale changes in climate. Although the past does not hold an exact analogue for the future, essential lessons can be learned about the sensitivity and resilience of forests to extreme events, the potential rates of ecological change, the role of natural and anthropogenic disturbance as a catalyst of change, and the legacy of human activities on forest environments.
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