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Investigation of North American vegetation variability under recent climate: A study using the SSiB4/TRIFFID biophysical/dynamic vegetation model


©2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Recent studies have shown that current dynamic vegetation models have serious weaknesses in reproducing the observed vegetation dynamics and contribute to bias in climate simulations. This study intends to identify the major factors that underlie the connections between vegetation dynamics and climate variability and investigates vegetation spatial distribution and temporal variability at seasonal to decadal scales over North America (NA) to assess a 2-D biophysical model/dynamic vegetation model's (Simplified Simple Biosphere Model version 4, coupled with the Top-down Representation of Interactive Foliage and Flora Including Dynamics Model (SSiB4/TRIFFID)) ability to simulate these characteristics for the past 60-years (1948 through 2008). Satellite data are employed as constraints for the study and to compare the relationships between vegetation and climate from the observational and the simulation data sets. Trends in NA vegetation over this period are examined. The optimum temperature for photosynthesis, leaf drop threshold temperatures, and competition coefficients in the Lotka-Volterra equation, which describes the population dynamics of species competing for some common resource, have been identified as having major impacts on vegetation spatial distribution and obtaining proper initial vegetation conditions in SSiB4/TRIFFID. The finding that vegetation competition coefficients significantly affect vegetation distribution suggests the importance of including biotic effects in dynamical vegetation modeling. The improved SSiB4/TRIFFID can reproduce the main features of the NA distributions of dominant vegetation types, the vegetation fraction, and leaf area index (LAI), including its seasonal, interannual, and decadal variabilities. The simulated NA LAI also shows a general increasing trend after the 1970s in responding to warming. Both simulation and satellite observations reveal that LAI increased substantially in the southeastern U.S. starting from the 1980s. The effects of the severe drought during 1987-1992 and the last decade in the southwestern U.S. on vegetation are also evident from decreases in the simulated and satellite-derived LAIs. Both simulated and satellite-derived LAIs have the strongest correlations with air temperature at northern middle to high latitudes in spring reflecting the effect of these climatic variables on photosynthesis and phenological processes. Meanwhile, in southwestern dry lands, negative correlations appear due to the heat and moisture stress there during the summer. Furthermore, there are also positive correlations between soil wetness and LAI, which increases from spring to summer. The present study shows both the current improvements and remaining weaknesses in dynamical vegetation models. It also highlights large continental-scale variations that have occurred in NA vegetation over the past six decades and their potential relations to climate. With more observational data availability, more studies with different models and focusing on different regions will be possible and are necessary to achieve comprehensive understanding of the vegetation dynamics and climate interactions. Key Points Climate forcing and spatial and temporal variability of North American ecosystem Evaluate a 2-D biophysical model/dynamic vegetation using satellite data Mechanisms affecting vegetation/climate interaction

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