Articles | Volume 14, issue 20
Research article
25 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 25 Oct 2017

An assessment of geographical distribution of different plant functional types over North America simulated using the CLASS–CTEM modelling framework

Rudra K. Shrestha, Vivek K. Arora, Joe R. Melton, and Laxmi Sushama

Abstract. The performance of the competition module of the CLASS–CTEM (Canadian Land Surface Scheme and Canadian Terrestrial Ecosystem Model) modelling framework is assessed at 1° spatial resolution over North America by comparing the simulated geographical distribution of its plant functional types (PFTs) with two observation-based estimates. The model successfully reproduces the broad geographical distribution of trees, grasses and bare ground although limitations remain. In particular, compared to the two observation-based estimates, the simulated fractional vegetation coverage is lower in the arid southwest North American region and higher in the Arctic region. The lower-than-observed simulated vegetation coverage in the southwest region is attributed to lack of representation of shrubs in the model and plausible errors in the observation-based data sets. The observation-based data indicate vegetation fractional coverage of more than 60 % in this arid region, despite only 200–300 mm of precipitation that the region receives annually, and observation-based leaf area index (LAI) values in the region are lower than one. The higher-than-observed vegetation fractional coverage in the Arctic is likely due to the lack of representation of moss and lichen PFTs and also likely because of inadequate representation of permafrost in the model as a result of which the C3 grass PFT performs overly well in the region. The model generally reproduces the broad spatial distribution and the total area covered by the two primary tree PFTs (needleleaf evergreen trees, NDL-EVG; and broadleaf cold deciduous trees, BDL-DCD-CLD) reasonably well. The simulated fractional coverage of tree PFTs increases after the 1960s in response to the CO2 fertilization effect and climate warming. Differences between observed and simulated PFT coverages highlight model limitations and suggest that the inclusion of shrubs, and moss and lichen PFTs, and an adequate representation of permafrost will help improve model performance.

Short summary
Computer models of vegetation provide a tool to assess how future changes in climate may the affect geographical distribution of vegetation. However, such models must first be assessed for their ability to reproduce the present-day geographical distribution of vegetation. Here, we assess the ability of one such dynamic vegetation model. We find that while the model is broadly successful in reproducing the geographical distribution of trees and grasses in North America some limitations remain.
Final-revised paper