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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-179
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-179
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 15 Jun 2020

Submitted as: research article | 15 Jun 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Climate change will cause non-analogue vegetation states in Africa and commit vegetation to long-term change

Mirjam Pfeiffer1, Dushyant Kumar1, Carola Martens2, and Simon Scheiter1 Mirjam Pfeiffer et al.
  • 1Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 2Insitute of Physical Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Altenhoeferallee 1, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Abstract. Vegetation responses to changes in environmental drivers can be subject to temporal lags. This implies that vegetation is committed to future changes once environmental drivers stabilize. Understanding the trajectories of such committed changes is important as they affect future carbon storage, vegetation structure and community composition and therefore need consideration in conservation management. In this study, we investigate whether transient vegetation states can be represented by a time-shifted trajectory of equilibrium vegetation states, or if they are vegetation states without analogue in conceivable equilibrium states. We use a dynamic vegetation model, the aDGVM, to assess deviations between simulated transient and equilibrium vegetation states in Africa between 1970 and 2099 for the RCP4.5 and 8.5 scenarios. Euclidean distance between simulated transient and equilibrium vegetation states based on selected state variables was used to determine lag times and similarity of vegetation states. We found that transient vegetation states over time increasingly deviated from equilibrium states in both RCP scenarios, but that deviation was more pronounced in RCP8.5 during the second half of the 21st century. Trajectories of transient vegetation change did not follow a virtual trajectory of equilibrium states, but represented non-analogue composite states resulting from multiple lags with respect to vegetation processes and composition. Lag times between transient and most similar equilibrium vegetation states increased over time and were most pronounced in savanna and woodland areas, where disequilibrium in savanna tree cover frequently acted as main driver for dissimilarities. Fire additionally enhanced lag times and Euclidean distance between transient and equilibrium vegetation states due to its restraining effect on vegetation succession. Long lag times can be indicative of high rates of change in environmental drivers, of meta-stability and non-analogue vegetation states, and of augmented risk for future tipping points. For long-term planning, conservation managers should therefore strongly focus on areas where such long lag times and high residual Euclidean distance between most similar transient and equilibrium vegetation states have been simulated.

Mirjam Pfeiffer et al.

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Mirjam Pfeiffer et al.

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Latest update: 07 Jul 2020
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Short summary
Lags caused by delayed vegetation response to changing environmental conditions can lead to disequilibrium vegetation states. Awareness of this issue is relevant for ecosystem conservation. We used the aDGVM vegetation model to quantify the difference between transient and equilibrium vegetation states in Africa during the 21st century for two potential climate trajectories. Lag times increased over time and vegetation was non-analogue to any equilibrium state due to multi-lag composite states.
Lags caused by delayed vegetation response to changing environmental conditions can lead to...
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