Reimagining Forest Resilience through the Lens of Rate-Induced Transitions

April 2022

Benton Taylor, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Wenying Liao, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Forest resilience (how forests respond to natural and man-made disturbances) can dramatically influence biodiversity conservation, carbon capture, and mitigate climate change. Predicted increases in the rate of disturbances caused by human land-use and natural disasters may alter environmental conditions in ways that slow down forests’ ability to respond to these disturbances. This concept of rate-induced transitions may push forests past their tipping points, leaving them unable to recover to their previous state following disturbances. Despite the alarming consequences, we do not currently understand where these tipping points exist or the mechanisms that drive them. This inability to predict rate-induced transitions in forest function hinders our ability to instrument management tools to build forest resilience. To better understanding and predict rate-induced changes to forest resilience will require integrating empirical data, theoretical development, and management knowledge. Such an approach calls for multidisciplinary collaboration with an engaged scholarship that carries a societal impact, which we aim to explore with the Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar. Our seminar will bring together a diverse group of experts to identify potential tipping points in forest resilience and develop rate-induced transition theory to better manage future forest recovery.