Thomas James, PhD

2012 TRI Fellow in Mongolia

Climatic Drivers of Ecosystem Change in Mongolia (Central Asia)

Empirical evidence from the boreal forests of Siberia suggests that forest species are showing diverging response to climate change, which in turn is causing competitive hierarchies among those species to change. This non-linear response is likely to facilitate forest re-organization. In addition, disturbance regimes are expected to change due to modification of direct and indirect bio-physical processes. Research indicates that this will alter successional trajectories, yet much uncertainty exists regarding both the spatial and temporal scale of forest response to climate change. The objective of this research is to examine forest productivity and demography in relation to climate and disturbance in northern Mongolia. This region marks the transition from Siberia’s boreal forest to the central Asian steppe, and is hypothesized to be an early responder to climatically mediated ecological change. I will compare tree growth by species, within and across stands, to understand spatial and temporal variability in forest productivity. I will also examine patterns of forest establishment and mortality, which will be contextualized by reconstruction of the region’s fire history as determined through analysis of fire scarred trees and logs collected adjacent to each sampling site. This research will clarify the trend and rate of climate-driven change in the forests of Mongolia, as well as support regional and national efforts to manage the forests of this region. It will also inform our understanding of global environmental change within the northern latitude boreal forest ecosystem.