IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

4.4.10 Cross-biome impacts

This section highlights issues that cut across biomes, such as large-scale geographical shifts of vegetation (Figure 4.3) or animal migration patterns (e.g., Box 4.3; Box 4.5), and changes in land use and aquatic systems.

Biome shifts

Boreal forest and Arctic tundra ecosystems are projected generally to show increased growth due to longer and warmer growing seasons (Lucht et al., 2002; Figure 4.3). Woody boreal vegetation is expected to spread into tundra at higher latitudes and higher elevations (Grace et al., 2002; Kaplan et al., 2003; Gerber et al., 2004). At the southern ecotone (see Glossary) with continental grasslands, a contraction of boreal forest is projected due to increased impacts of drought, insects and fires (Bachelet et al., 2001; Scholze et al., 2006), together with a lower rate of sapling survival (Hogg and Schwarz, 1997). Drought stress could partially be counteracted by concurrent CO2-induced enhanced water-use efficiency (Gerten et al., 2005), small regional increases in precipitation, and an increased depth of permafrost thawing. It is uncertain whether peak summer heat stress on boreal tree species could cause regional transitions to grassland where the continental winter climate remains too cold for temperate forest species to succeed (Gerber et al., 2004; Lucht et al., 2006). In temperate forests, milder winters may reduce winter hardening in trees, increasing their vulnerability to frost (Hänninen et al., 2001; Hänninen, 2006).

Vegetation change in the lower to mid latitudes is uncertain because transitions between tropical desert and woody vegetation types are difficult to forecast. Climate models disagree in pattern and magnitude of projected changes in atmospheric circulation and climate variability, particularly for precipitation (e.g., with respect to the Indian and West African monsoons). For the Sahel and other semi-arid regions, increasing drought is predicted by some models (Held et al., 2005), while increased water-use efficiency is projected to cause more greening (Figure 4.3), though potentially associated with more frequent fires, in others (Bachelet et al., 2003; Woodward and Lomas, 2004b; Ni et al., 2006; Schaphoff et al., 2006). In savannas, woody encroachment is projected to be a consequence of enhanced water-use efficiency and increased precipitation in some regions (Bachelet et al., 2001; Lucht et al., 2006; Ni et al., 2006; Schaphoff et al., 2006; Section 4.4.3; Figure 4.3). The moderate drying, including desert amelioration, as projected in southern Africa, the Sahel region, central Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and parts of central Asia (Figure 4.3) may be due to a positive impact of rising atmospheric CO2, as noted in eastern Namibia through sensitivity analysis (Thuiller et al., 2006b).

A general increase of deciduous at the expense of evergreen vegetation is predicted at all latitudes, although the forests in both the eastern USA and eastern Asia appear to be sensitive to drought stress and decline under some scenarios (Bachelet et al., 2001; Gerten et al., 2005; Lucht et al., 2006; Scholze et al., 2006). Tropical ecosystems are expected to change, particularly in the Amazon, where a subset of GCMs shows strong to moderate reductions in precipitation with the consequence of transitions of evergreen tropical forest to rain-green forest or grasslands (Cox et al., 2004; Cramer et al., 2004; Woodward and Lomas, 2004b). However, representations of tropical succession remain underdeveloped in current models. The global land biosphere is projected by some models to lose carbon beyond temperature increases of 3°C (Gerber et al., 2004), mainly from temperate and boreal soils, with vegetation carbon declining beyond temperature increases above 5°C (Gerber et al., 2004). Carbon sinks persist mainly in the Arctic and in savanna grasslands (Woodward and Lomas, 2004b; Schaphoff et al., 2006). However, there is large variability between the projections of different vegetation (Cramer et al., 2001) and climate (Schaphoff et al., 2006) models for a given emissions scenario.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3. Projected appreciable changes in terrestrial ecosystems by 2100 relative to 2000 as simulated by DGVM LPJ (Sitch et al., 2003; Gerten et al., 2004) for two SRES emissions scenarios (Naki´cenovi´c et al., 2000) forcing two climate models: (a) HadCM3 A2, (b) ECHAM5 B1 (Lucht et al., 2006; Schaphoff et al., 2006). Changes are considered appreciable and are only shown if they exceed 20% of the area of a simulated grid cell (see Figure 4.2 for further explanations).

Migration patterns

Vagile (see Glossary) animals such as polar bears (sea-ice biome, tundra; Box 4.3) and in particular migratory animals (tundra, wetlands, lakes, tropical forests, savannas, etc.; Box 4.5) respond to impacts both within and across biomes. Many species breed in one area then move to another to spend the non-breeding season (Robinson et al., 2005). Many migratory species may be more vulnerable to climate change than resident species (Price and Root, 2005). As migratory species often move annually in response to seasonal climate changes, their behaviour, including migratory routes, is sensitive to climate. Numerous studies have found that many of these species are arriving earlier (Chapter 1 and e.g., Root et al., 2003). Changes in the timing of biological events are of particular concern because of a potential disconnect between migrants and their food resources if the phenology of each advances at different rates (Inouye et al., 2000; Root et al., 2003; Visser et al., 2004). The potential impact of climate change on migratory birds has been especially well studied (Box 4.5).

Box 4.5. Crossing biomes: impacts of climate change on migratory birds

Migratory species can be affected by climate change in their breeding, wintering and/or critical stopover habitats. Models project changes in the future ranges of many species (Peterson et al., 2002; Price and Glick, 2002; Crick, 2004), some suggesting that the ranges of migrants may shift to a greater extent than non-migrants (Price and Root, 2001). In some cases this may lead to a lengthening and in others to a shortening of migration routes. Moreover, changes in wind patterns, especially in relation to seasonal migration timing, could help or hinder migration (Butler et al., 1997). Other expected impacts include continuing changes in phenology, behaviour, population sizes and possibly genetics (reviewed in Crick, 2004; Robinson et al., 2005).

Many migratory species must cross geographical barriers (e.g., the Sahara Desert, oceans) in moving between their wintering and breeding areas. Many species must stop in the Sahel to refuel en route from their breeding to their wintering areas. Degradation of vegetation quality in the Sahel (Box 4.2) could potentially lead to population declines in these species in areas quite remote from the Sahel (Robinson et al., 2005).

More than 80% of the species living within the Arctic Circle winter farther south (Robinson et al., 2005). However, climate-induced habitat change may be greatest in the Arctic (Zöckler and Lysenko, 2000; Symon et al., 2005). For example, the red knot could potentially lose 15%-37% of its tundra breeding habitat by 2100 (HadCM2a1, UKMO). Additionally, at least some populations of this species could also lose critical migratory stopover habitat (Delaware Bay, USA) to sea-level rise (Galbraith et al., 2002).

The breeding areas of many Arctic breeding shorebirds and waterfowl are projected to decline by up to 45% and 50%, respectively (Folkestad et al., 2005) for global temperature increases of 2°C above pre-industrial. A temperature increase of 2.9°C above pre-industrial would cause larger declines of up to 76% for waterfowl and up to 56% for shorebirds. In North America’s Prairie Pothole region, models have projected an increase in drought with a 3°C regional temperature increase and varying changes in precipitation, leading to large losses of wetlands and to declines in the populations of waterfowl breeding there (Johnson et al., 2005). Many of these species also winter in coastal areas vulnerable to sea-level rise (Inkley et al., 2004). One review of 300 migrant bird species found that 84% face some threat from climate change, almost half because of changes in water regime (lowered watertables and drought), and this was equal to the summed threats due to all other anthropogenic causes (Robinson et al., 2005).

Land use

The relative importance of key drivers on ecosystem change varies across regions and biomes (Sala et al., 2000; Sala, 2005). Several global studies suggest that at least until 2050 land-use change will be the dominant driver of terrestrial biodiversity loss in human-dominated regions (Sala et al., 2000; UNEP, 2002; Gaston et al., 2003; Jenkins, 2003; Scharlemann et al., 2004; Sala, 2005). Conversely, climate change is likely to dominate where human interventions are limited, such as in the tundra, boreal, cool conifer forests, deserts and savanna biomes (Sala et al., 2000; Duraiappah et al., 2005). Assessment of impacts on biodiversity differ if other drivers than climate change are taken into account (Thomas et al., 2004a; Sala, 2005; Malcolm et al., 2006). Interactions among these drivers may mitigate or exacerbate the overall effects of climate change (Opdam and Wascher, 2004). The effects of land-use change on species through landscape fragmentation at the regional scale may further exacerbate impacts from climate change (Holman et al., 2005a; Del Barrio et al., 2006; Harrison et al., 2006; Rounsevell et al., 2006).

Global land-use change studies project a significant reduction in native vegetation (mostly forest) in non-industrialised countries and arid regions due to expansion of agricultural or urban land use driven principally by population growth, especially in Africa, South America and in South Asia (Hassan et al., 2005). This reduction in native habitat will result in biodiversity loss (e.g., Duraiappah et al., 2005; Section 4.4.11). Northern-latitude countries and high-altitude regions may become increasingly important for biodiversity and species conservation as the ranges of species distributions move poleward and upward in response to climate change (Berry et al., 2006). Northern-latitude countries and high-altitude regions are also sensitive to the effects of climate change on land use, especially agriculture, which is of particular relevance if those regions are to support adaptation strategies to mitigate the negative effects of future climate and land-use change. Biomes at the highest latitudes that have not already been converted to agriculture are likely to remain relatively unchanged in the future (Duraiappah et al., 2005).

Aquatic systems

Higher CO2 concentrations lower the nutritional quality of the terrestrial litter (Lindroth et al., 2001; Tuchman et al., 2002, 2003a, 2003b) which in turn will affect the food web relationships of benthic communities in rivers. Greater amounts of DOC (dissolved organic carbon) released in peatlands at higher CO2 levels are exported to streams and finally reach coastal waters (Freeman et al., 2004).