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Newly discovered landscape traps produce regime shifts in wet forests

David B. Lindenmayer, Richard J. Hobbs, Gene E. Likens, Charles J. Krebs, Samuel C. Banks

We describe the “landscape trap” concept, whereby entire landscapes are shifted into, and then maintained (trapped) in, a highly compromised structural and functional state as the result of multiple temporal and spatial feedbacks between human and natural disturbance regimes. The landscape trap concept builds on ideas like stable alternative states and other relevant concepts, but it substantively expands the conceptual thinking in a number of unique ways. In this paper, we (i) review the literature to develop the concept of landscape traps, including their general features; (ii) provide a case study as an example of a landscape trap from the mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests of southeastern Australia; (iii) suggest how landscape traps can be detected before they are irrevocably established; and (iv) present evidence of the generality of landscape traps in different ecosystems worldwide.

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[...] To the best of our collective knowledge, the landscape trap concept has not been previously reported, yet we argue that landscape traps may be more prevalent in ecosystems around the world than currently recognized. Common ingredients contributing to landscape traps are
(i) ▹ overharvesting of natural resources in a landscape;
(ii) ▹ climate change effects on species’ life histories and/or the frequency and severity of ecological disturbances;
(iii) ▹ major changes in the spatial characteristics of landscapes;
(iv) ▹ feedback loops between the changed environmental conditions and other major stressors; and
(v) ▹ severely impaired ecological functions of a landscape in an altered state, such as, for example, reduced populations of species and habitat suitability, reduced carbon storage, and reduced water and timber production. [...]
Temperate forests are not immune to such traps. In moist temperate forests of western North America, logging-related alterations in stand structure increase the risk for both occurrence and severity of subsequent wildfires through changes in fuel types and conditions [...]. High-severity wildfires kill young trees planted following previous logging operations. This necessitates reforestation efforts, but these young stands are susceptible to being killed in subsequent recurring high-severity fires [...]. Similar kinds of relationships between logging regimes and altered fire regimes have been reported in a range of forest types elsewhere around the world [...].

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 108, No. 38. (20 September 2011), pp. 15887-15891, 
Key: INRMM:14434832



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