Making European forests more resilient is crucial in response to climate change and intensified disturbances
Trees are long-lived organisms and it usually takes 60 to 150 years from seeding or planting to the final harvesting of wood in European forests. In this period, our climate is expected to warm substantially, along with changes in rainfall patterns. Already today, we can observe impacts of climate change with increased mortality close to dry distribution limits of tree species. We will also face more extreme events and associated disturbances.
In 2017 alone, fire, wind and insects destroyed more than 1 million hectares of European forests. We cannot predict exactly how our climate will develop. Society’s choices will determine whether we will face less than 2 degrees or more than 4 degrees of warming. Further uncertainty relates to the ecological impacts of these changes.
Ecosystems can adapt to some extent, but the pace of change is too fast to cope without active support. Scientific reviews identified many different adaptive forest management measures, but in practice, measures are rarely used. Part of the reason for the lack of action is the fact that decision makers perceive the situation as too uncertain to choose adaptation measures. To counteract this, awareness raising about expected climate change impacts and science-based decision support is needed. The portfolio of response options includes several measures that enhance forest resilience. For example mixed stands and a diversity of management regimes mitigates risks of adverse impacts as some stands and/or species will turn out to be more suitable for the future conditions than others are. We can also help to prevent that natural disturbances turn into catastrophic threats.
Under future climatic conditions, we are going to have longer and more dangerous fire seasons. But through active management we can remove dead biomass (which is the fuel for hot devastating fires) and thus limit fire spread.