Articles | Volume 14, issue 6
Research article
30 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 30 Mar 2017

Mapping the reduction in gross primary productivity in subarctic birch forests due to insect outbreaks

Per-Ola Olsson, Michal Heliasz, Hongxiao Jin, and Lars Eklundh

Abstract. It is projected that forest disturbances, such as insect outbreaks, will have an increasingly negative impact on forests with a warmer climate. These disturbance events can have a substantial impact on forests' ability to absorb atmospheric CO2, and may even turn forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources; hence, it is important to develop methods both to monitor forest disturbances and to quantify the impact of these disturbance events on the carbon balance. In this study we present a method to monitor insect-induced defoliation in a subarctic birch forest in northern Sweden, and to quantify the impact of these outbreaks on gross primary productivity (GPP). Since frequent cloud cover in the study area requires data with high temporal resolution and limits the use of finer spatial resolution sensors such as Landsat, defoliation was mapped with remote sensing data from the MODIS sensor with 250 m  ×  250 m spatial resolution. The impact on GPP was estimated with a light use efficiency (LUE) model that was calibrated with GPP data obtained from eddy covariance (EC) measurements from 5 years with undisturbed birch forest and 1 year with insect-induced defoliation. Two methods were applied to estimate the impact on GPP: (1) applying a GPP reduction factor derived from EC measured GPP to estimate GPP loss, and (2) running a LUE model for both undisturbed and defoliated forest and deriving the differences in modelled GPP. In the study area of 100 km2 the results suggested a substantial setback to the carbon uptake: an average decrease in regional GPP over the three outbreak years (2004, 2012, and 2013) was estimated to 15 ± 5 Gg C yr−1, compared to the mean regional GPP of 40 ± 12 Gg C yr−1 for the 5 years without defoliation, i.e. 38 %. In the most severe outbreak year (2012), 76 % of the birch forests were defoliated, and annual regional GPP was merely 50 % of GPP for years without disturbances. The study has generated valuable data on GPP reduction, and demonstrates a potential for mapping insect disturbance impact over extended areas.

Final-revised paper