Scientific Seminar: Managing the Mediterranean forest as a complex social-ecological system

SS_sole_250.jpg : 66.708984375KbComplexity Science is an emerging discipline that challenges established systems of classification and linear thinking. Participants were treated to a keynote address from leading complexity specialist, Ricard Solé, who brought the subject vividly to life with an enthralling presentation from the emergence of behaviour, through history, influence, universality, collapse, predicting collapse, fragility and potential lessons learned for ecosystems.

Distinguished complexity expert, Christian Messier took the topic into the forest with a presentation on forests as complex adaptive systems. SS_messier_250.jpg : 69.7177734375Kb

With rapid change, disturbance patterns and stressors are increasing. There is a need for a reconciliation of forestry and ecology, as diversity usually increases resilience and the production of services. Simplifying systems can make them more prone to disturbance and monoculture is no longer the ideal model. By understanding the various parameters of the complex system we might reach new principles of management, realising that even those events we previously considered disturbances might be part of the system and that dealing with the uncertainty of the future is part of the challenge of the complex ecosystem.

SS_elsa_250.jpg : 63.685546875KbThe practical application of Complexity Science in the Mediterranean context was described by CTFC and EFIMED researcher, Elsa Varela, in her presentation on forest fires as complex events. Societal changes and the decline of rural economies have increased uniformity of the landscape, leading to greater opportunities for forest fires to spread, while prevention of grazing in the fight against deforestation has paradoxically led to increased fire risk. Fire prevention schemes work on a small scale but we have seen a growth in the number large wildfires which have proved impossible to control using established measures. The economic issue is also important, as difficulties in fire control can be linked to the low value attributed to forests. It is thus necessary to find innovative solutions to fire, such as managing an equilibrium between grazing and tree protection. A practical scheme to pay shepherds to undertake controlled grazing in our forests was presented as a viable low-cost alternative to expensive fire prevention and suppression schemes currently in place.

SS_chadi_250.jpg : 57.455078125KbPartners from the Lebanon, Chadi Mohanna and Patricia Sfeir, continued with practical examples of forest management initiatives, describing the 40 Million Trees project, a Public-private Partnership which incorporates as a new approach for sustainable forest development in the Lebanon, engaging stakeholders at local, regional and national levels. At the end of the day the complex societal components are the key to success in the implementation of forest policies and research knowledge

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The floor was then given to young scientists who had submitted posters under the Scientific Seminar theme. Brief presentations of the posters were given during the plenary session with opportunity for further discussion during the lunch break. The best poster award was presented to Joana Amaral Paulo for her poster on “Tree cork calibre evolution in two consecutive cork extractions”, for which she receives a grant from EFIMED for a Short Scientific Visit.

SS panel_250.jpg : 72.7900390625KbAs might be anticipated, understanding complexity science and its application to Mediterranean forest management is far from simple. In the round table discussion and debate that ensued it became apparent, however, that it is important to differentiate between the complex and the complicated: Mediterranean forests are complex systems because of the interactions between the various factors, not because of the number of factors to consider in isolation.

Photos 1-6: Elena Gorriz

In complex systems, interactions are relevant and modelling is important to increase understanding. Socio-economical aspects must also be taken into account alongside reconciled forestry and ecology which have traditionally been studied separately. But above all, prediction with uncertainty is essential, as is the recognition that sometimes the effort taken to reduce uncertainty may not be as useful as expected. 

Participants took these thoughts bubbling into the afternoon writing workshop, coordinated by Bart Muys of the University of Leuven and EFIMED consultant. The objective of the workshop is to develop a perspective paper on Managing the Mediterranean forest as a complex social-ecological system, a work in progress which will be develop over the course of the next few months. More information will be provided to the Network in the coming weeks. Presentations will soon be available via the EFIMED website.

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Photos 7 & 8: Sarah Adams

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