Research concludes climate change brings enormous challenges for forests worldwide

28 Jun 2017

Disturbances such as droughts, wind and insects attacks all result in stress for forests and they are influenced by changing climate. Forests cover about a third of worldwide land surface, but knowledge is still lacking about how these types of disruptions interact with one another given global climate change.

Now, for the first time, an international team of scientists, including Forest Research’s Michal Petr, has comprehensively examined possible climate impacts on disturbances in forests. This new analysis was completed using more than 600 research papers of the last 30 years. Published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the results show that increasing risks for forests have to be expected in the future.

Lead author Rupert Seidl from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, said “Our study shows that climate change significantly influences disruptive factors all around the world – and that a further increase of disturbances in forests has to be expected in the future.” The project’s leader Christopher Reyer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research goes on to explain “This has impacts on the ability of the forests to provide services for us humans – for example in

terms of their wood, in terms of protection against avalanches, or simply as recreational spaces. If climate change keeps on increasing disturbances, this clearly is a risk for the coping capacities of the forests – in the long run, ecosystems as we know them today might change profoundly.”

Fires are currently the most significant disruptive factor in many forests around the world, and will become an even more serious threat in the coming decades, according to the scientists. The forests of Northern and Central Europe, however, have so far mainly been impaired by storms and the insect damage that follows them – a type of damage which will also increase under climate change. Damage caused by ice and snow were the only disruptive factors examined by the study that are likely to decrease under climate change. However, this positive effect cannot compensate the negative effects from other factors. Seidl says “Our analysis clearly shows that climate change brings enormous challenges for forests – the forest sector has to adapt and to increase its resilience, as it seems impossible to prevent damage completely”.

The article is part of a Forest Research climate change programme, which assesses the risks of climate change to forests along with the decision making processes and actions that can help our forests better cope with our changing climate.

Article: Rupert Seidl, Dominik Thom, Markus Kautz, Dario Martin-Benito, Mikko Peltoniemi, Giorgio Vacchiano, Jan Wild, Davide Ascoli, Michal Petr, Juha Honkaniemi, Manfred J. Lexer, Volodymyr Trotsiuk, Paola Mairota, Miroslav Svoboda, Marek Fabrika, Thomas A. Nagel, and Christopher P. O. Reyer (2017): Forest disturbances under climate change. Nature Climate Change https://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v7/n6/full/nclimate3303.html