Large uncertainties in future biome changes in Africa call for flexible climate adaptation strategies

  • Anthropogenic climate change is expected to impact ecosystem structure, biodiversity and ecosystem services in Africa profoundly. We used the adaptive Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (aDGVM), which was originally developed and tested for Africa, to quantify sources of uncertainties in simulated African potential natural vegetation towards the end of the 21st century. We forced the aDGVM with regionally downscaled high‐resolution climate scenarios based on an ensemble of six general circulation models (GCMs) under two representative concentration pathways (RCPs 4.5 and 8.5). Our study assessed the direct effects of climate change and elevated CO2 on vegetation change and its plant‐physiological drivers. Total increase in carbon in aboveground biomass in Africa until the end of the century was between 18% to 43% (RCP4.5) and 37% to 61% (RCP8.5) and was associated with woody encroachment into grasslands and increased woody cover in savannas. When direct effects of CO2 on plants were omitted, woody encroachment was muted and carbon in aboveground vegetation changed between –8 to 11% (RCP 4.5) and –22 to –6% (RCP8.5). Simulated biome changes lacked consistent large‐scale geographical patterns of change across scenarios. In Ethiopia and the Sahara/Sahel transition zone, the biome changes forecast by the aDGVM were consistent across GCMs and RCPs. Direct effects from elevated CO2 were associated with substantial increases in water use efficiency, primarily driven by photosynthesis enhancement, which may relieve soil moisture limitations to plant productivity. At the ecosystem level, interactions between fire and woody plant demography further promoted woody encroachment. We conclude that substantial future biome changes due to climate and CO2 changes are likely across Africa. Because of the large uncertainties in future projections, adaptation strategies must be highly flexible. Focused research on CO2 effects, and improved model representations of these effects will be necessary to reduce these uncertainties.

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Author:Carola MartensORCiDGND, Thomas HicklerORCiD, Claire Davis‐Reddy, Francois Engelbrecht, Steven I. Higgins, Graham P. von Maltitz, Guy F. Midgley, Mirjam PfeifferORCiDGND, Simon ScheiterORCiDGND
Parent Title (German):Global change biology
Place of publication:Oxford [u.a.]
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2020/10/09
Date of first Publication:2020/10/09
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/12/10
Tag:CO2 fertilization; aDGVM; biome shifts and transitions; carbon stocks; climate change; ensemble simulations; uncertainties; water use efficiency
Page Number:19
Institutes:Geowissenschaften / Geographie / Geowissenschaften
Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft
Fachübergreifende Einrichtungen / Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum (BiK-F)
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 55 Geowissenschaften, Geologie / 550 Geowissenschaften
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0