Disentangling Climate and Disturbance Effects on Regional Vegetation Greening Trends


Kristin D. Emmett, Katherine M. Renwick, Benjamin Poulter




Productivity of northern latitude forests is an important driver of the terrestrial carbon cycle and is already responding to climate change. Studies of the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for northern latitudes indicate recent changes in plant productivity. These detected greening and browning trends are often attributed to a lengthening of the growing season from warming temperatures. Yet, disturbance-recovery dynamics are strong drivers of productivity and can mask direct effects of climate change. Here, we analyze 1-km resolution NDVI data from 1989 to 2014 for the northern latitude forests of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for changes in plant productivity to address the following questions: (1) To what degree has greening taken place in the GYE over the past three decades? and (2) What is the relative importance of disturbance and climate in explaining NDVI trends? We found that the spatial extents of statistically significant productivity trends were limited to local greening and browning areas. Disturbance history, predominately fire disturbance, was a major driver of these detected NDVI trends. After accounting for fire-, insect-, and human-caused disturbances, increasing productivity trends remained. Productivity of northern latitude forests is generally considered temperature-limited; yet, we found that precipitation was a key driver of greening in the GYE.



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