Using historical ecology to reassess the conservation status of coniferous forests in Central Europe.
ABSTRACT: Forests cover approximately one-third of Central Europe. Oak (Quercus) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica) are considered the natural dominants at low and middle elevations, respectively. Many coniferous forests (especially of Picea abies) occur primarily at midelevations, but these are thought to have resulted from forestry plantations planted over the past 200 years. Nature conservation and forestry policy seek to promote broadleaved trees over conifers. However, there are discrepancies between conservation guidelines (included in Natura 2000) and historical and palaeoecological data with regard to the distribution of conifers. Our aim was to bring new evidence to the debate on the conservation of conifers versus broadleaved trees at midelevations in Central Europe. We created a vegetation and land-cover model based on pollen data for a highland area of 11,300 km2 in the Czech Republic and assessed tree species composition in the forests before the onset of modern forestry based on 18th-century archival sources. Conifers dominated the study region throughout the entire Holocene (approximately 40-60% of the area). Broadleaved trees were present in a much smaller area than envisaged by current ideas of natural vegetation. Rather than casting doubt on the principles of Central European nature conservation in general, our results highlight the necessity of detailed regional investigations and the importance of historical data in challenging established notions on the natural distribution of tree species.
Project description:Despite the local and global importance of forests, deforestation is driven by various socio-economic and biophysical factors continues in many countries. In Nepal, in response to massive deforestation, the community forestry program has been implemented to reduce deforestation and support livelihoods. After four decades of its inception, the effectiveness of this program on forest cover change remains mostly unknown. This study analyses the spatial and temporal patterns of tree cover change along with a few socio-economic drivers of tree cover change to examine the effectiveness of the community forestry program for conserving forests or in reducing deforestation. We also investigate the socio-economic factors and policy responses as manifested through the community forestry program responsible for the tree cover change at the district level. The total tree cover area in the year 2000 in Nepal was ?4,746,000 hectares, and our analysis reveals that between 2001 and 2016, Nepal has lost ?46,000 ha and gained ?12,200 ha of areas covered by trees with a substantial spatial and temporal variations. After accounting socio-economic drivers of forest cover change, our analysis showed that districts with the larger number of community forests had a minimum loss in tree cover, while districts with the higher proportion of vegetation covered by community forests had a maximum gain in tree cover. This indicates a positive contribution of the community forestry program to reducing deforestation and increasing tree cover.
Project description:Significant changes in the composition and extent of the UK forest cover are likely to take place in the coming decades. Current policy targets an increase in forest area, for example, the Welsh Government aims for forest expansion by 2030, and a purposeful shift from non-native conifers to broadleaved tree species, as identified by the UK Forestry Standard Guidelines on Biodiversity. Using the example of Wales, we aim to generate an evidence-based projection of the impact of contrasting policy scenarios on the state of forests in the near future, with the view of stimulating debate and aiding decisions concerning plausible outcomes of different policies. We quantified changes in different land use and land cover (LULC) classes in Wales between 2007 and 2015 and used a multi-layer perceptron-Markov chain ensemble modelling approach to project the state of Welsh forests in 2030 under the current and an alternative policy scenario. The current level of expansion and restoration of broadleaf forest in Wales is sufficient to deliver on existing policy goals. We also show effects of a more ambitious afforestation policy on the Welsh landscape. In a key finding, the highest intensity of broadleaf expansion is likely to shift from southeastern to more central areas of Wales. The study identifies the key predictors of LULC change in Wales. High-resolution future land cover simulation maps using these predictors offer an evidence-based tool for forest managers and government officials to test the effects of existing and alternative policy scenarios.
Project description:Robinia pseudoacacia, invaded many countries a long time ago and is now a common part of the Central European landscape. Positive economic but negative environmental impacts of Robinia result in conflicts of interest between nature conservation, forestry, urban landscaping, beekeepers and the public when defining management priorities. Because current legislation will determine the future distribution of Robinia in the landscape, a comprehensive view of this species is necessary. Although this species is well studied, most of the scientific papers deal with the economic aspects. Other information is published in local journals or reports. Therefore we reviewed the ecological and socio-economic impact of Robinia placing particular emphasis on the species' history, vegetation ecology, invasiveness and management. In Central Europe, Robinia is limited climatically by late spring frost combined with a short vegetation period, soil hypoxia, shade and frequent major disturbances. The long historical tradition of using Robinia for afforestation has resulted in its popularity as a widespread forest tree and it being an important part of the economy in some countries. The main reasons are its fast growth, valuable and resistant wood, suitability for amelioration, reclamation of disturbed sites and erosion control, honey-making and recently dendromass production. On the other hand, a side-effect of planting this nitrogen-fixing pioneer tree, very tolerant of the nature of the substrate, is its propagation and spread, which pose a problem for nature conservation. Robinia is considered invasive, threatening especially dry and semi-dry grasslands, some of the most species-rich and endangered types of habitat in the region, causing extinction of many endangered light-demanding plants and invertebrates due to changes in light regime, microclimate and soil conditions. Other often invaded habitats include open dry forests and shrubland, alluvial habitats, agrarian landscapes, urban and industrial environments and disturbed sites, e.g. post-fire sites, forest clearings or degraded forestry plantations. Without forestry, black locust abundance would decrease during succession in forests with highly competitive and shade tolerant trees and in mature forests it occurs only as admixture of climax trees. The limited pool of native woody species, lack of serious natural enemies and a dense cover of grasses and sedges can suppress forest succession and favour the development of Robinia monodominant stands over 70 years old. A stratified approach, which combines both tolerance in some areas and strict eradication at valuable sites, provides the best option for achieving a sustainable coexistence of Robinia with people and nature.
Project description:European forests host a diversity of tree species that are increasingly threatened by fungal pathogens, which may have cascading consequences for forest ecosystems and their functioning. Previous experimental studies suggest that foliar and root pathogen abundance and disease severity decrease with increasing tree species diversity, but evidences from natural forests are rare. Here, we tested whether foliar fungal disease incidence was negatively affected by tree species diversity in different forest types across Europe. We measured the foliar fungal disease incidence on 16 different tree species in 209 plots in six European countries, representing a forest-type gradient from the Mediterranean to boreal forests. Forest plots of single species (monoculture plots) and those with different combinations of two to five tree species (mixed species plots) were compared. Specifically, we analyzed the influence of tree species richness, functional type (conifer vs. broadleaved) and phylogenetic diversity on overall fungal disease incidence. The effect of tree species richness on disease incidence varied with latitude and functional type. Disease incidence tended to increase with tree diversity, in particular in northern latitudes. Disease incidence decreased with tree species richness in conifers, but not in broadleaved trees. However, for specific damage symptoms, no tree species richness effects were observed. Although the patterns were weak, susceptibility of forests to disease appears to depend on the forest site and tree type.
Project description:Removal of canopy trees by logging causes shifts in herbaceous diversity and increases invasibility of the forest understory. However, disturbed (cut) trees of many species do not die but resprout from remaining parts. Because sprouts develop vigorously immediately after disturbances, we hypothesized that sprouts of logged trees offset the changes in species richness and invasibility of the herbaceous layer by eliminating the rise in the resource availability during the time before regeneration from seeds develops. To test this, we analyzed data on herbaceous vegetation and sprout biomass collected in a broadleaved temperate forest in the Czech Republic before and for 6 years after logging. Sprouts that were produced by most of the stumps of logged trees offset large rises in species richness and cover of herbaceous plants and the resource availability that followed logging, but they affected the alien plants more significantly than the native plants. The sprouting canopy effectually eliminated most of the alien species that colonized the forest following a logging event. These findings indicate that in forests dominated by tree species with resprouting ability, sprouts drive the early post-disturbance dynamics of the herbaceous layer. By offsetting the post-disturbance vegetation shifts, resprouting supports forest resilience.
Project description:Retention forestry, which retains a portion of the original stand at the time of harvesting to maintain continuity of structural and compositional diversity, has been originally developed to mitigate the impacts of clear-cutting. Retention of habitat trees and deadwood has since become common practice also in continuous-cover forests of Central Europe. While the use of retention in these forests is plausible, the evidence base for its application is lacking, trade-offs have not been quantified, it is not clear what support it receives from forest owners and other stakeholders and how it is best integrated into forest management practices. The Research Training Group ConFoBi (Conservation of Forest Biodiversity in Multiple-use Landscapes of Central Europe) focusses on the effectiveness of retention forestry, combining ecological studies on forest biodiversity with social and economic studies of biodiversity conservation across multiple spatial scales. The aim of ConFoBi is to assess whether and how structural retention measures are appropriate for the conservation of forest biodiversity in uneven-aged and selectively harvested continuous-cover forests of temperate Europe. The study design is based on a pool of 135 plots (1 ha) distributed along gradients of forest connectivity and structure. The main objectives are (a) to investigate the effects of structural elements and landscape context on multiple taxa, including different trophic and functional groups, to evaluate the effectiveness of retention practices for biodiversity conservation; (b) to analyze how forest biodiversity conservation is perceived and practiced, and what costs and benefits it creates; and (c) to identify how biodiversity conservation can be effectively integrated in multi-functional forest management. ConFoBi will quantify retention levels required across the landscape, as well as the socio-economic prerequisites for their implementation by forest owners and managers. ConFoBi's research results will provide an evidence base for integrating biodiversity conservation into forest management in temperate forests.
Project description:Soil bacteria may be influenced by vegetation and play important roles in global carbon efflux and nutrient cycling under global changes. Coniferous and broadleaved forests are two phyletically distinct vegetation types. Soil microbial communities in these forests have been extensively investigated but few studies have presented comparable data regarding the characteristics of bacterial communities in subtropical forests. We investigated soil bacterial biomass and community composition in three pairs of coniferous and broadleaved forests across a subtropical climatic gradient. We found that bacterial biomass differed between the coniferous and broadleaved forests across the subtropical climate gradient; however, this difference disappeared at some individual sites. In contrast, the same 90 bacterial genera were found in both forest types, and their relative abundances didn't differ between the forest types, with the exception of one genus that was more abundant in broadleaved forests. Soil nitrogen or moisture was associated with bacterial groups in the coniferous and broadleaved forests, respectively. Thus, we inferred that these forests can respond differently to future changes in nitrogen deposition or precipitation. This study highlights soil bacterial invariant community composition in contrasting subtropical forests and provides a new perspective on the potential response and feedback of forests to global changes.
Project description:This study provides regional estimates of forest cover in dry African ecoregions and the changes in forest cover that occurred there between 1990 and 2000, using a systematic sample of medium-resolution satellite imagery which was processed consistently across the continent.The study area corresponds to the dry forests and woodlands of Africa between the humid forests and the semi-arid regions. This area covers the Sudanian and Zambezian ecoregions.A systematic sample of 1600 Landsat satellite imagery subsets, each 20 km × 20 km in size, were analysed for two reference years: 1990 and 2000. At each sample site and for both years, dense tree cover, open tree cover, other wooded land and other vegetation cover were identified from the analysis of satellite imagery, which comprised multidate segmentation and automatic classification steps followed by visual control by national forestry experts.Land cover and land-cover changes were estimated at continental and ecoregion scales and compared with existing pan-continental, regional and local studies. The overall accuracy of our land-cover maps was estimated at 87%. Between 1990 and 2000, 3.3 million hectares (Mha) of dense tree cover, 5.8 Mha of open tree cover and 8.9 Mha of other wooded land were lost, with a further 3.9 Mha degraded from dense to open tree cover. These results are substantially lower than the 34 Mha of forest loss reported in the FAO's 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment for the same period and area.Our method generates the first consistent and robust estimates of forest cover and change in dry Africa with known statistical precision at continental and ecoregion scales. These results reduce the uncertainty regarding vegetation cover and its dynamics in these previously poorly studied ecosystems and provide crucial information for both science and environmental policies.
Project description:Spectra of leaf traits in northern temperate forest canopies reflect major differences in leaf longevity between evergreen conifers and deciduous broadleaf angiosperms, as well as plastic modifications caused by within-crown shading. We investigated (1) whether long-lived conifer leaves exhibit similar intra-canopy plasticity as short-lived broadleaves, and (2) whether global interspecific relationships between photosynthesis, nitrogen, and leaf structure identified for sun leaves adequately describe leaves differentiated in response to light gradients. We studied structural and photosynthetic properties of intra-tree sun and shade foliage in adult trees of seven conifer and four broadleaf angiosperm species in a common garden in Poland. Shade leaves exhibited lower leaf mass-per-area (LMA) than sun leaves; however, the relative difference was smaller in conifers than in broadleaves. In broadleaves, LMA was correlated with lamina thickness and tissue density, while in conifers, it was correlated with thickness but not density. In broadleaves, but not in conifers, reduction of lamina thickness was correlated with a thinner palisade layer. The more conservative adjustment of conifer leaves could result from a combination of phylogenetic constraints, contrasting leaf anatomies and shoot geometries, but also from functional requirements of long-lived foliage. Mass-based nitrogen concentration (N(mass)) was similar between sun and shade leaves, and was lower in conifers than in deciduous broadleaved species. Given this, the smaller LMA in shade corresponded with a lower area-based N concentration (N(area)). In evergreen conifers, LMA and N(area) were less powerful predictors of area-based photosynthetic rate (A (max(area))) in comparison with deciduous broadleaved angiosperms. Multiple regression for sun and shade leaves showed that, in each group, A (max(mass)) was related to N(mass) but not to LMA, whereas LMA became a significant codeterminant of A (max(mass)) in analysis combining both groups. Thus, a fundamental mass-based relationship between photosynthesis, nitrogen, and leaf structure reported previously also exists in a dataset combining within-crown and across-functional type variation.
Project description:Over the last 4 decades, China has undergone major economic development, resulting in considerable impacts on its wildlife populations and habitats. It is essential to quantify the conflict between development and conservation to assist with policy-making because forestry policies and market trends affected indirectly the distribution of Asian elephants. Here, we mapped the historical distribution of elephants versus human land use. Elephant distributions appear to occur in unbroken natural forests only. However, over the 40-year period, the distribution ranges have become smaller and fragmented, with natural forest area also declining by 16%. The monoculture of cash trees is encroaching on natural forests. Over the past 10 years, rubber plantations have become concentrated in the south, with extensive natural forests and scattered rubber farms being converted to tea plantations, due to changes in governmental policies and product prices. Through mapping the spatial changes in the distribution of rubber and tea plantations, our study is expected to help local managers to incorporate the needs of endangered elephants through creating space when planning plantations, especially in Xishuangbanna and the south part of Pu'er. In conclusion, restoring elephant habitat and establishing ecological corridors are critical for the survival of elephants in this region.