Boreal forests in permafrost landscapes: changing structure and function in response to climate warming
Boreal forests occupy latitudes that are experiencing the greatest rates of warming on earth, a pattern that is expected to continue over the coming decades. Much of the boreal is underlain by permafrost, which can be expected to have important consequences for forest structure, composition and functioning as the climate warms. The southern margin of permafrost is especially susceptible to warming, since in this region, the permafrost is discontinuous, relatively thin, warm and ice-rich. In the discontinuous permafrost zone, permafrost often forms the physical foundation on which trees develop, forming tree-covered peat plateaus where trees contribute to permafrost maintenance and aggradation processes through reductions in radiation load and changes in snow accumulation. Forests are restricted to peat plateaus while wetland communities occupy intervening permafrost-free areas. The extent and distribution of each land cover type is an important determinant of how boreal forest-wetland landscapes in the discontinuous permafrost zone function as part of the climate system. Climate warming is rapidly thawing permafrost leading to ground surface subsidence and transformation of the forests into wetlands, increasing both the areal extent and connectivity of the latter. In this presentation, I will use an integrative framework to demonstrate the changes in ecological, hydrological and biosphere-atmosphere interactions within this boreal forest-wetland landscape characterized by rapidly degrading permafrost.