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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The more (carbon in forest), the better (for biodiversity)?

Credits: S. Burrascano, F.M. Sabatini,

 Forests host a huge range of animals and plants, and provide a wealth of services to us, including the provision of timber and other forest products (mushrooms!), protection from landslides and avalanches in mountain areas, clean water and clean air. In addition, forests capture and store large amounts of carbon, mostly in wood and soils, thus contributing to mitigating climate change. When managing forests, we should keep all these services in mind, and since not all of them can be maximised at the same time, make choices and set priorities. In our paper ‘Trade‐offs between carbon stocks and biodiversity in European temperate forests, recently published in Global Change Biology, we focus on one of the possible trade-offs. Can we manage forests to both support biodiversity and maximize the amount of carbon they store? In short, can we fill two needs with one deed?

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Could we reduce the functional diversity of plant communities to a few schemes?

The functional configuration of plant communities follows a limited number of dominant schemes, which are surprisingly similar to those found for individual plant species.

Too strong is the temptation to paraphrase the famous incipit of the novel ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy:

Are plant communities all alike or is every plant community unique in its own way? “

The ‘Anna Karenina principle’ applied to plant communities is, in a nutshell, the core of the new paper we have just published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. The exuberance of the plant world when it comes to self-organizing into variously assorted communities puzzled ecologists for decades in their search for patterns and commonalities across regions. Thanks to the unprecedented collection of data made available by sPlot – The Global Vegetation-plot database, we found that the organization of plants into communities follows a limited number of dominant schemes, which are surprisingly similar to those existing at the level of individual plant species.

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Save a jaguar by eating less meat

Here’s a piece of my former colleague Alfredo Romero-Muñoz on his work on the jaguars. Happy to host it also here.

Original article:

KaayanaMy encounter with Kaayana in Kaa-Iya National Park in the Bolivian Chaco. Her cub was around but cannot be seen in the photo

I was trapped. Or so I thought.

The jaguar came towards me on the dirt road, calmly but attentively in the dusky light, her nearly full grown cub behind her. Nervous and with only a torch as defence, I held the light high above my head as she approached, trying to look taller. But she was merely curious; and, after 20 minutes, they left. I walked home in the thickening darkness, amazed at having come so close to South America’s top predator. We later named this mother jaguar ‘Kaayana’, because she lives inside Kaa-Iya National Park in the Bolivian Chaco. My fascination with jaguars has only grown since then, but the chances of encountering this incredible animal in the wild have shrunk even since…

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Are we asking too much of species data?

To conserve biodiversity, we need a clear picture of how it is distributed. Easier said than done! Biodiversity is a short word for a wide concept. Even just counting the number of species in a forest can be an overwhelming task if one considers all insects, spiders, birds, mites, (ticks!), lichens, fungi, isopoda and so on. Not only, some of these groups are very difficult to identify, so sampling them all would require hundreds of hours to a team of well-trained field biologists.

Can we rely on one or few groups of species to make inferences on all the other, then? Although the use of indicators is a well-established routing, how well these indicators work in Southern European beech forest is not clearly understood. One of the open questions is: How well do indicators work at different scales? In our new article Congruence across taxa and spatial scales: Are we asking too much of species data?”, just published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, we tried to find an answer.

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Where are Europe’s last wild forests?

When thinking of untouched forests, many of us immediately go with our thoughts to the Sequoia groves in California, the magnificent mountain ash forests in Tasmania or to the endless stretches of trees in the Amazon. Well, you will be surprised then to know that Europe still hosts some hidden treasures, patches of forest where signs of human impacts are minimal and where today’s big veteran trees were young saplings at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Well, the good news is that we have finally mapped these forests across the entire Europe and have just published the results in the scientific journal Diversity and Distribution.

Picture credits: Fraktos forest – Rodopi Mountain Range National Park – Greece
Photo: F.M. Sabatini

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