Process ecosystem models are useful tools to provide insight on complex, dynamic ecological systems, and their response to disturbances. The biogeochemical model PnET-BGC was modified and tested using field observations from an experimentally whole-tree harvested northern hardwood watershed (W5) at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), New Hampshire, USA. In this study, the confirmed model was used as a heuristic tool to investigate long-term changes in hydrology, biomass accumulation, and soil solution and stream water chemistry for three different watershed cutting intensities (40%, 60%, 80%) and three rotation lengths (30, 60, 90 years) under both constant (current climate) and changing (MIROC5-RCP4.5) future climate scenarios and atmospheric CO2 through the year 2200. For the no future cutting scenario, total ecosystem stored carbon (i.e., sum of aboveground biomass, woody debris and soil) reached a maximum value of 207 t C ha−1 under constant climate but increased to 452 t C ha−1 under changing climate in 2200 due to a CO2 fertilization effect. Harvesting of trees decreased total ecosystem stored carbon between 7 and 36% for constant climate and 7–60% under changing climate, respectively, with greater reductions for shorter logging rotation lengths and greater watershed cutting intensities. Harvesting under climate change resulted in noticeable losses of soil organic matter (12–56%) coinciding with loss of soil nutrients primarily due to higher rates of soil mineralization associated with increases in temperature, compared with constant climate conditions (3–22%). Cumulative stream leaching of nitrate under climate change (181–513 kg N ha−1) exceeded constant climate values (139–391 kg N ha−1) for the various cutting regimes. Under both climate conditions the model projected greater sensitivity to varying the length of cutting period than cutting intensities. Hypothetical model simulations highlight future challenges in maintaining long-term productivity of managed forests under changing climate due to a potential for a deterioration of soil fertility.
- Climate change
- Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest
- Managed forests
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal