A study published this month on the website ScienceDirect which provides access to an extensive bibliographic database of scientific and medical publications, states that there will be a significant loss of the benefits Europe’s forests provide to humans and nature this century. According to experts, the “ecosystem services” provided by forests, such as soil protection or food supply, will be reduced in Europe by an average of 15% by 2100 under a scenario of moderate emissions. These losses could be partially mitigated by paying more attention to the type of trees planted across the continent.
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“European forests are facing multiple natural and anthropogenic pressures that are expected to become more severe in the coming decades. Tree diversity is predicted to decline in many areas of the continent. How this will affect the provision of forest services remains an open question, the answer to which depends, inter alia, on the practical and theoretical challenges of integrating assisted migration into climate adaptation strategies. We estimate that by the end of the century and in a scenario of natural dispersion, the provision of forest services would decrease by an average of 15% in Europe and up to 52% in the Mediterranean. To explore whether and how management could reduce expected losses, we simulated a series of alternative assisted migration strategies aimed at identifying, for each locality, the communities of tree species they offer the best compromise in terms of resilience to climate change and delivery of specific combinations of ecosystem services“.
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“Such strategies could reduce service losses by 10%-15% on average in Europe and even increase service availability in Alpine and Boreal regions but not in the Mediterranean, where losses will remain at 33%. Our findings highlight how science-led management strategies could be vital in reducing an otherwise dramatic decline in forest services at the European level. Our simulated assisted migration strategies identify communities of similar tree species in different paths. This makes our approach a powerful tool for forest management, as it can be a source of sound advice whether or not, and to what extent, human society deviates from normal emissions trajectories.”
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Forests offer a wide range of benefits for humans and the environment; direct, such as firewood and construction wood, indirect, such as the protection of soils from erosion. They protect the biodiversity and contribute significantly to climate change mitigation. Second the European Environment Agencycirca 10% of the EU’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed and stored in soil and trees. Climate change has made forests in Europe more vulnerable: second a 2021 Nature Communications study carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and other key services could be “seriously affected” in the future by the impacts of climate changewith temperatures becoming more extreme and flooding more frequent.
Study examines 3 forest management strategies aimed at reducing or reversing the loss of benefits forests provide, assessed against 2 pathways of future emissions: moderate to very high. The first sample random species to replace lost ones, the second choose substitutions that maximize a specific ecosystem service, such as soil protection while the third identifies the species that offer the best overall result for all services. Future perspectives assess species spread under one scenario where trees disperse themselves naturally and another where they are helped by humans to spread to more areas where they are climate-adapted.
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In each scenario, the researchers say that replacing locally lost tree species with ones more suited to future climate conditions can reduce the decline of ecosystem services, compared with scenarios without such “assisted migration.”“. By moving tree species to an area where they may not have been grown before, losses could be reduced by an average of 10%, however it is estimated that they will still reduce by about a third in the Mediterranean region by the end of this century, even with human intervention. The study points to be considered in EU plans that protect the environment and biodiversity as a scientifically sound basis for a decision-making process, also remarking the EU’s commitment to plant 3 billion trees on the continent by 2030.