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    Description

    Pervasive forest mortality is expected to increase in future decades as a result of increasing temperatures. Climate-induced forest dieback can have consequences on ecosystem services, potentially mediated by changes in forest structure and understory community composition that emerge in response to tree death. Although many dieback events around the world have been documented in recent years, yellowcedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) decline provides an opportunity to study vegetation changes occurring over the past century. Current research identifies climate-related reductions in snow cover as a key driver of this species dieback. To examine the process of forest development post-dieback, we conducted vegetation surveys at 50 plots along the outer coast of southeast Alaska across a chronosequence of mortality. Our main study objectives were to examine changes in seedling and sapling abundance, and community structure of conifer species in the overstory; effects of yellow-cedar mortality on plant diversity and community composition of functional groups in the understory; and volume of key forage species for Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) managed throughout the region. The probability of yellow-cedar sapling occurrence was reduced across the chronosequence. Yellow-cedar seedling and sapling abundance also decreased. We observed a turnover from yellow-cedar to western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) dominated forests. Functional plant diversity increased and the community composition of the understory changed across the chronosequence. Bryophytes became less abundant and grasses more abundant in the early stages of stand development, and shrubs increased in relative abundance in latter stages. Our results demonstrate that yellow-cedar is significantly less likely to regenerate in forests affected by widespread mortality, and a species dieback can dynamically rearrange the plant community over time. These findings emphasize the importance of considering long-term temporal dynamics when assessing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and adapting forest management to a changing climate.

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    Citation

    Oakes, Lauren E.; Hennon, Paul E.; O'Hara, Kevin L.; Dirzo, Rodolfo. 2014. Long-term vegetation changes in a temperate forest impacted by climate change. Ecosphere. 5(10): art 135.

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    Keywords

    Alaska, biodiversity, Callitropsis nootkatensis, climate change, community composition, disturbance, forest dieback, stand development.

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/49812