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Potential of a national monitoring program for forests to assess change in high-latitude ecosystems



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station


Biological Conservation. 144: 1285-1294


Broad-scale monitoring in Alaska has become of increasing interest due to uncertainty about the potential impacts of changing climate on high-latitude ecosystems. The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program is a national monitoring program for all public and private forestlands in the US, but the program is not currently implemented in the boreal region of Alaska. We provide an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the FIA system for monitoring the potential impact of climate change on Alaska's species, communities, and ecosystems. The primary strength of the system is a scientifically rigorous design-based statistical estimation method that produces estimates of forest attributes with known sampling error and quantifiable measurement error. The weaknesses of the system include low power for small area estimates, lack of spatial context and contiguity, and difficulty in inferring causality of factors when changes in monitored attributes are detected. Climate change is expected to impact many components of boreal ecosystems, but for most indicators the direction and magnitude of change are difficult to predict because of complex interactions among system components. Status and trend information provided by FIA monitoring that could be helpful to conservation decisions includes abundance and rarity of vascular plants, invasive species, biomass and carbon content of vegetation, shifting vegetation species distribution, disturbance frequency, type, and impact, and wildlife habitat characteristics. Because of unique factors such as the low level of infrastructure, modifications to the FIA monitoring system used in the conterminous US have been proposed for Alaska. Remote sensing data would play a greater role in meeting monitoring objectives, and sampling intensity of field plots would be reduced. Coordination with other national, regional, and local monitoring efforts provides potential for increased understanding of change in boreal ecosystems at multiple scales.


Barrett, Tara M.; Gray, Andrew N. 2011. Potential of a national monitoring program for forests to assess change in high-latitude ecosystems. Biological Conservation. 144: 1285-1294.

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