Species richness of plant communities: the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer?

In 2012 J. Bastow Wilson published a seminal paper in the Journal of Vegetation Science. It was about the world records of plant species richness. What is the maximum number of species ever found in a vegetation plot of a given size? As simple as it sounds, the paper returned unexpected results. When considering large plot sizes (e.g., 1 hectare) tropical forests were by far the richest communities, but for smaller sizes temperate grasslands and wooded meadows were way richer than tropical ecosystems. Species richness does not increase linearly with the plot size, and communities that are the richest in species for small plots, might not be the richest at larger sizes.

But how is species richness distributed across regions and ecosystems? Thanks to a team of 50 coauthors and thousands of data contributors, we tried to fill this knowledge gap in our latest paper, just published in Nature Communications.

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Fantastic Forests and where to find them

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

It’s out and completely open-access. The expanded version of our database is the most complete source of information on the location of primary forests in Europe ever assembled. It harmonizes 48 independent datasets, which collectively described 18,411 individual patches of primary forest across 33 European countries. The European Primary Forest Database (EPFD) v2.0 is described in the journal Scientific Data. All data can be freely downloaded from Figshare.

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Old-growth forest carbon sinks overestimated. So what?

Below a short letter drafted together with William R. Moomaw and Brendan Mackey questioning the message of a recently published paper quantifying the carbon uptake rates by old-growth forests.

Even if old-growth forests have long been thought to be carbon neutral, there is evidence that they might act as carbon sinks late into succession (Luyssaert et al. 2008). A recent paper published in Nature (Gundersen et al. 2021) recently suggested old-growth forest sequesters a third less carbon than previously estimated, and called for reexamining their role in the global carbon budget. Their call, however, misses the mitigation value of these forests in limiting atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

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Science for the Environment Policy on Forest & CO

Our latest article on “Protection gaps and restoration opportunities for primary forests in Europe“, published last September in Diversity and Distribution and object of this other post, has been picked up by ‘Science for the Environment Policy’ for a policy brief. Science for Environment Policy is a free news and information service published by Directorate-General Environment, European Commission. In their own words: “It is designed to help the busy policymaker keep up-to-date with the latest environmental research findings needed to design, implement and regulate effective policies.”

Here’s the excerpt from the abstract:

Forests with minimal history of human interference — ‘primary forests’ — provide vital ecosystem services and have high levels of biodiversity. These forests are being lost worldwide, even in regions where forests are expanding, and are particularly scarce in Europe. This study uses modelling and maps of forest cover in Europe to determine how primary forest is distributed across the region, with the findings highlighting areas of forest that should be prioritised for restoration and protection.

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Why not to publish in “Sustainability” (and you’re welcome to share this post)

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

If you are a publishing academic in sustainability science, chances are high that you have been approached by the journal “Sustainability” to lead a special issue. With this blog post, I would like to share my personal opinion why not to work with this journal, not as an author, and not as an editor.

Sustainability is a journal that specialises in publishing special issues. To set up those special issues, it approaches authors of other recent papers, asking them if they might like to consider a special issue on a particular topic. For example, over the years, I have received invitations (among others) to contribute work for special issues on “Sustainability and Institutional Change”, “Landscape and Sustainability”, “Ecosystem Function and Land Use Change”, “Sustainable Landscape Management”, “Sustainable Futures”, “Integrated Landscape Governance for Food Security”, “Sustainable Multifunctional Landscapes” or “What is Sustainability? Examining Faux Sustainability”.

If you do…

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Protection gaps and restoration opportunities for primary forests in Europe

credits: Ondrei Kameniar

Exciting times for tree-huggers like myself. In the new ‘Biodiversity Strategy for 2030’ the European Commission has finally recognized the intrinsic importance of primary forests, stating that it is ‘…crucial to define, map, monitor and strictly protect all the EU’s remaining primary and old-growth forests’. FORESTS and CO paved the way already in 2018, when we published the landmark article ‘Where are Europe’s last Primary Forests’. In our new work, just published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distribution, we go a step forward, and answer three key questions: Are remaining primary forests representative of Europe’s forest types? Are they sufficiently protected? Where is forest restoration needed and feasible to meet biodiversity targets in Europe?

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The Exploitation of Jungle – A DokuFilm

What are the connections between illegal deforestation, displacement of indigenous peoples across the globe and the FSC, the most famous of Sustainable Forestry Certification Schemes? Is FSC certification sufficient to avoid further loss of primary forests? Does the timber industry play by the rules?

These and other questions are explored in this interesting documentary from Deutsche Welle, featuring among others Matthew Hansen, Pierre Ibisch, and Klemens Laschefski.


It depicts a pretty grime situation. I believe it’s only a face of the FSC coin, which should not be demonized. Still, it’s a face of the coin worth addressing.

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Shameless autocelebration and warmest thanks

I’m pretty proud of this one: Where are Europe’s last primary forests?

It’s been out for almost two years now, has already more than fifty citations, and it’s now been awarded Top Cited Paper in Diversity and Distribution. That’s quite an impact, I must say, even without considering its impact in real (= outside academia) world. As an example, I like to think this paper played a role to convince the IUCN to put the motion

under consideration in the next IUCN World Conservation Congress (11 – 19 June 2020, Marseille).

I would like to thank all people that made it possible. Not only all coauthors, but also the hundred of field workers from all over Europe that created, piece by piece, the huge dataset underlying our paper.

To all of you my warmest thanks

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Back to mapping primary forests

credits: Martin Mikolas

Forest and CO is formally over. I anticipate there is more to come, but for the moment you can see the results that we published here and here. Our project had quite an impact, I must say. I will describe its far-reaching consequences somewhere else, though. Rather than looking backwards, I’m here to tell you what’s going to happen.

Long story short. We are back in the game.

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Forests & CO @ Climate-Conference

I’m presenting FORESTS & CO’s results on primary forests, including challenges and trade-offs when it comes to carbon management at the UNFCCC-COP24 Climate conference in Katowice. I hope to see you there!

Panel: Forests and Climate Policy under the Paris Agreement
EU Pavilion – Brussels Room, Friday, Dec. 7th: 16:30 – 20:00

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