Helping the spread of ‘climate-compatible trees’ may benefit Europe’s forests

There will be a significant loss in the benefits that European forests provide for humans and nature this century, concludes new research by a team of European scientists. However, the study also finds that these losses can be reduced – but not entirely stopped – by more strategic tree-planting.

Carbon Brief reports that the study says that “ecosystem services” supplied by forests, such as protecting soils or providing food, will reduce by 15% on average by the end of this century under a moderate-emissions scenario.

These losses can be partially mitigated if more thought is given to tree species planted across the continent – however, the research, published in Global Environmental Change, says the Mediterranean will still see high losses of key benefits as conditions become more arid as this century progresses.

The study says that “European forests are facing multiple natural and anthropogenic pressures that are expected to become more severe in the next decades. Tree diversity is projected to decline in many areas across the continent. How this will affect the provision of forest services remains an open question, whose answer depends, among others, on the practical and theoretical challenges of incorporating assisted migration into climate adaptation strategies.”

In the study, the researchers say they tackle the issue by combining a large dataset of tree species occurrences, future climatic projections, and data on tree functional traits and tree-specific forest services into a novel modelling framework.

They estimate that “by the end of the century and under a natural dispersal scenario, the provision of forest services would decrease on average by 15% in Europe (for RCP 4.5; 23% for RCP 8.5), and up to 52% (70% for RCP 8.5) in the Mediterranean.”

To explore if and how management could reduce the projected losses, the researchers simulated a suite of alternative assisted migration strategies aimed at identifying, for each locality, the tree species communities offering the best compromise in terms of resilience to climate change and delivery of specific combinations of ecosystem services.

They found that such strategies could reduce losses of services by 10% (15%) on average in Europe, and even increase service availability in the Alpine and Boreal regions but not in the Mediterranean, where losses will remain as high as 33% (54% for RCP 8.5).

More information here

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