Plant functional diversity affects climate–vegetation interaction

Groner, Vivienne P.; Raddatz, Thomas; Reick, Christian H.; Claussen, Martin

We present how variations in plant functional diversity affect climate–vegetation interaction towards the end of the African Humid Period (AHP) in coupled land–atmosphere simulations using the Max Planck Institute Earth system model (MPI-ESM). In experiments with AHP boundary conditions, the extent of the “green” Sahara varies considerably with changes in plant functional diversity. Differences in vegetation cover extent and plant functional type (PFT) composition translate into significantly different land surface parameters, water cycling, and surface energy budgets. These changes have not only regional consequences but considerably alter large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns and the position of the tropical rain belt. Towards the end of the AHP, simulations with the standard PFT set in MPI-ESM depict a gradual decrease of precipitation and vegetation cover over time, while simulations with modified PFT composition show either a sharp decline of both variables or an even slower retreat. Thus, not the quantitative but the qualitative PFT composition determines climate–vegetation interaction and the climate–vegetation system response to external forcing. The sensitivity of simulated system states to changes in PFT composition raises the question how realistically Earth system models can actually represent climate–vegetation interaction, considering the poor representation of plant diversity in the current generation of land surface models.

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Groner, Vivienne P. / Raddatz, Thomas / Reick, Christian H. / et al: Plant functional diversity affects climate–vegetation interaction. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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