An upward shift of Mediterranean forest species on south-eastern France relief is explained by forest closure and maturation rather than by climate change in the region. This is the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Vegetation Science, for which first author Jeanne Bodin recently received the 2013 Journal of Vegetation Science Editors' Award.

Using extensive data from French National Forest Inventory, the team from INRA Nancy, France, led by Jean-Luc Dupouey, measured a mean upward shift of species of 18 meters along the elevation gradient on south-eastern France relief. Such a shift was explained by climate change in some previous studies. However, French NFI data revealed that changes in forest dynamics were ongoing in the study area, but with variable intensity within elevation gradient. In fact, forest maturation and cover closure have occurred mostly at lower elevations on the period studied. For INRA researchers, this cover closure had triggered a changing dominance in species frequency at low elevations, related to their ecological preferences regarding forest cover and was responsible for the upward shift of species.

The authors of this article issue an important warning: direct anthropogenic disturbances like changes in forest management, and more generally land-use change occurring at the same scales in space and time as climate change in Western Europe can affect vegetation dynamics and cause shifts in vegetation distribution.

Bodin, J., Badeau, V., Bruno, E., Cluzeau, C., Moisselin, J.-M., Walther, G.-R. & Dupouey, J.-L. 2013. Shifts of forest species along an elevational gradient in Southeast France: climate change or stand maturation? Journal of Vegetation Science, 24: 269–283.

Pärtel, M., Chiarucci, A., Chytrý, M. and Pillar, V. D. 2014. Silver Jubilee of the journal and complexity of global change. Journal of Vegetation Science, 25: 1–3.

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