Climate Change is Fuelling Forest Disturbance

Climate change is already altering the environment. Long-lived ecosystems such as forests are particularly vulnerable to the comparatively rapid changes in the climate system. A new international study published in the August edition of Nature Climate Change  shows that damage from wind, bark beetles and wildfires has increased drastically in Europe’s forests in recent years. “Disturbances like windthrow and forest fires are part of the natural dynamics of forest ecosystems, and are not, therefore, a catastrophe for the ecosystem as such. However, these disturbances have intensified considerably in recent decades, which increasingly challenges the sustainable management of forest ecosystems”, says Rupert Seidl, BOKU Vienna, the principal researcher involved in the study.

The authors show that damage caused by forest disturbance has increased continuously over the last 40 years in Europe, reaching 56 million cubic meters of timber per year in the period 2002 – 2010. Scenario analyses for the coming decades also suggest a continuation of this trend: the study estimates that forest disturbances will increase damage by another million cubic meters of timber every year over the next 20 years. This increase amounts to the approximate timber volume stocking on a forest area corresponding to 7000 soccer fields. The scientists identified climate change as the main driver behind this increase: under assumed stable climatic conditions no substantial further increases in forest disturbances beyond the current levels were found in their simulations. Damage from forest fires was particularly estimated to increase on the Iberian Peninsula, while bark beetle damage increased most strongly in the Alps. Wind damage would be seen to rise most notably in Central and Western Europe.

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Increasing forest disturbance damage in Europe (@Nature Climate Change, the authors)

The findings of the study made international impact in the science world, and were featured in articles on the BBC, The Guardian and ScienceDaily.

More information:

Rupert Seidl, Werner Rammer, BOKU Vienna rupert.seidl (at) boku.ac.at
werner.rammer (at) boku.ac.at

Mart-Jan Schelhaas, Alterra, Wageningen UR, martjan.schelhaas (at) wur.nl
Hans Verkerk, EFI, hans.verkerk (at) efi.int

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