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Assessing the Potential for Climate Change and Forest Insects to Drive Land-use Regime Shifts 


New England Landscape Futures

Anticipating landscape- to regional-scale impacts of land use on ecosystems and the services they provide is a central challenge for scientists, policy makers, and resource managers. By engaging with stakeholders to analyze plausible land use scenarios, scientists can bypass the inherent uncertainties associated with prediction within socio-ecological systems. Engaging with stakeholders also serves to maximize the legitimacy, salience, and uptake of the results. The Harvard Forest Future Scenarios Project integrates these elements into a participatory research initiative that develops, simulates, and analyzes land use scenarios. Using consistent assumptions about major drivers and constraints, the stakeholder-defined scenarios describe futures that include different amounts, intensities, and spatial configurations of land development, timber harvesting, farmland expansion, and forest conservation. All scenarios include the assumption that average temperature and precipitation will increase with climate change, Scenarios are simulated using the spatially interactive, process-based forest landscape model, LANDIS-II and evaluated in terms of their impacts on direct human uses of the landscape (developed land, agriculture, timber harvest), ecosystem services (carbon storage, flood regulation, nutrient retention), and biodiversity conservation (forest composition, interior forest habitat).

Climate change and wildfire interactions

The frequency and severity of wildfires is increasing throughout much of the West. Moreover, the process of ecosystem recovery after wildfires is changing, especially where droughty conditions slow tree seedling establishment and growth. Scientists are concerned that these changes will force ecosystems over critical thresholds – so called tipping points – wherein the dominant vegetation permanently shifts from forests to shrubs. The 25-million acre (10 million hectare) Klamath region of Oregon and California is an area of particular concern. Such a shift in the Klamath would impair its unparalleled botanical diversity (e.g. there are 29 species of conifer trees in the Klamath!) and release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses as some of the most carbon dense forests in North America transition to low-carbon shrub-chaparral. The scientists working on this project will evaluate the potential for a critical transition in the Klamath and collaborate directly with the U.S. Forest Service to identify robust strategies for ecosystem management in the face of climate change. Including the participation of Forest Service decision-makers, who manage 80% of the Klamath region, will ensure the transparency and credibility of the science, thereby increasing its impact on environmental outcomes.

Scenarios, Services, and Society (S3) Research Coordination Network

The main objectives of the Scenarios, Services, and Society (S3) RCN are to synthesize existing science, catalyze new research, and produce science products to understand and advance sustainable land-use trajectories. The major activities of the S3 RCN are to:

  1. generate a suite of qualitative land-use scenarios co-developed by scientists and stakeholders that depict a range of possible future social, economic, and environmental realities for the study region; 
  2. simulate the land-use scenarios as they interact with multiple environmental stressors using existing modeling frameworks; 
  3. evaluate the simulated scenarios in terms of bundles of ecosystem services that are defined together with the stakeholders; and 
  4. share knowledge with broader audiences to advance sustainable land-use trajectories and enhance communities of practice in scenario-based sustainability science. The methods to be employed consist primarily of coordination activities and include: 
    1. Science and Stakeholder Workshops, 
    2. Open Technical Workshops to promote methods development and model coupling, 
    3. Synthesis and Writing Meetings, and 
    4. a Webinar Learning Series to foster knowledge exchange.