Recovery and resilience of European temperate forests to large and severe disturbances – new article published!

As a result of global change, forest disturbances are becoming larger and more severe, which may cause regeneration failures and, ultimately, a loss of forest resilience, especially under a warm and dry climate. Though European temperate forests are well adapted to the historical range of disturbance variability, there are concerns that a changing climate and increasing disturbance impacts may push their dynamics beyond their historical range of variability, potentially impacting recovery processes and their provision of ecosystem services.

We investigated the resilience of European temperate forests to large and severe disturbances (i.e. creating contiguous patches larger than 1ha) using ground-based inventories of regeneration, in collaboration with several other European research groups. Although numerous ground-based case studies have examined regeneration following various disturbance events, to our knowledge, no previous efforts have conducted a continental-scale synthesis of forest recovery from long-term ground-based studies after stand-replacing disturbances caused by different disturbance agents in Europe. Forest resilience was analyzed in terms of their potential to recover in structure and species composition to their pre-disturbance state. Furthermore, we leveraged on large bioclimatic and topographic datasets to assess the impact of environment and forest management on the recovery process. The scientific effort started under a previous ForestValue project (I-MAESTRO).

Location of the study sites and respective disturbance agents. The pictures show forests recovering after bark beetles in Czechia (A), wind in Slovenia (B), and fire in Bulgaria (C).

Our study showed that European temperate forests have the potential to recover after large and severe disturbances and concurrent climate conditions, although with more difficulty after fires compared with other disturbance agents. The main factors negatively influencing tree regeneration after wind disturbances were increasing elevation and the execution of salvage logging, particularly in the case of late-successional species.

Effect of post-disturbance management on post-windthrow weighted density of different successional groups. Note that “Salvaged” category refers to plots where only salvage logging was carried out, and “Intensive” category refer to plots where salvage logging and planting or tending were carried out.

In the forthcoming months we plan to further explore this ground-based European-scale dataset in combination with remotely-sensed data, within FORECO Work Package 5, in order to improve our understanding of the complex process of forest recovery under climate change.

For more information check the full article published on Global Change Biology. Cover image: Beech forest reserve recovering after wildfire (Bulgaria); photo by Prof. Momchil Panayotov, University of Forestry (Sofia)

Cerioni, M., Brabec, M., Bače, R., Bāders, E., Bončina, A., Brůna, J., Chećko, E., Cordonnier, T., de Koning, J. H. C., Diaci, J., Dobrowolska, D., Dountchev, A., Engelhart, J., Fidej, G., Fuhr, M., Garbarino, M., Jansons, Ā., Keren, S., Kitenberga, M., … & Nagel, T. A. (2024). Recovery and resilience of European temperate forests after large and severe disturbances. Global Change Biology, 30, e17159.

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