Many temperate forests are considered to be in an equilibrium state to which they return after a disturbance. Interactions between tree functional traits and disturbances in shaping forest composition and structure have mainly focused on spatially discrete disturbances, e.g. gaps, fire. Other disturbances occurring at relatively larger spatial scale, e.g. drought, might have diffuse but long lasting effects so that current forest structure reflects legacies from past ecological and climatic conditions. This project will examine relationships between climate and forest structure and composition through an integrated study combining multi-century climate reconstructions, forest disturbance histories, and cutting-edge forest succession models along environmental gradients in temperate rainforests. This strategy will be applied to the temperate rainforests of northeastern Turkey which are some of the few remnants of old growth forests in Western Eurasia and are seriously endangered by global change and anthropogenic disturbances. Understanding within-community variation in the species responses to climate and examining historical climate at a temporal scale relevant to tree recruitment and canopy dieback are essential steps to analyze how forests will respond to global change. The combination of paleoecological and modelling approaches will allow investigating multiple climate effects on the ecology of these forests under changing environmental conditions. A deeper understanding of ecological processes under a combination of complex disturbances will provide critical and long-term perspectives on the role of climate variability in causing vegetation changes in these ecosystems where global change is expected to lead to more frequent and intense droughts.
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