Forest disturbances in Europe - changing dynamics and changing perspectives

Authors: Dominik Kulakowski*, Clark University, Peter Bebi, WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, SLF
Topics: Biogeography, Environmental Science, Global Change
Keywords: Disturbance regimes, Socioecological systems, Temperate forests, Resilience, Wilderness
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Forests are among the most important ecosystems in Europe as they support numerous ecological, climatic, social, and economic functions. These ecosystems are relatively natural compared to an otherwise densely-populated human landscape. Recent trends of land abandonment and establishment of protected forests have coincided with a growing interest in managing forests in more natural states. Here, we present 15 years of our research, highlighting the increasing recognition of the importance of disturbances in long-term and current forest conditions, as well as related implications for management. The relative importance of natural disturbances, land use, and climate change for ecosystem dynamics varies across space and time. Across the European continent, changing climate and land use are altering forest cover, forest structure, tree demography, and natural disturbances, including fires, insect outbreaks, avalanches, and wind disturbances. Episodic disturbances may foster ecosystem adaptation to the effects of climatic change. Increasing disturbances, along with trends of less intense land use, will promote further increases in coarse woody debris, with cascading effects on biodiversity, edaphic conditions, biogeochemical cycles, and increased heterogeneity across a range of spatial scales. Together, this may translate to disturbance-mediated resilience of forest landscapes, as long as climate and disturbance regimes remain within the tolerance of relevant species. Understanding ecological variability, even imperfectly, is integral to anticipating vulnerabilities and promoting ecological resilience, especially under growing uncertainty. Allowing some forests to be shaped by natural processes may be congruent with multiple goals of forest management, even in densely settled and developed countries.

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