Conference for protection of old growth forest in Europe – We go, do You?

There’s a lot of stir around old-growth forests lately. After spending the last two years collecting data about their distribution in Europe (not just on old-growth to be sincere, but I don’t want to reopen the terminological Pandora box), performing a massive literature review, bothering hundreds of forest experts all over the continent, and building a network of researchers willing to share their data, we think we can say a word or two on the topic. It seems that some agencies, institutions, and NGOs are also starting to realize that, if you want to protect the last old-growth forest of Europe, you need to know where they are. That’s why the NGO Wild Europe got in touch with us and invited us to contribute to the Conference for the protection of old-growth forest in Europe (Brussels, 13-14th September 2017).

Wild Europe defines this ‘A conference for practical action’. The idea is to gather all the people interested in the protection of old-growth forests to agree on practical actions that address all aspects of an agenda to protect and restore old-growth forests. In short, develop a protection strategy, and find a way to implement it. Of course, to protect something, you first need to know where it is. So, Wild Europe invited us to present our ‘Map of primary forests of Europe’ over the conference. We will give some anticipations of our findings, waiting for the scientific paper to be published in the scientific literature.

See you there?

 

 

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Forest WG Workshop @ Carpathians Convention

Credits: Ana Marin, University of Malaga

Inventorying and mapping virgin forests in Europe is not just an interesting research exercise, or a conservation priority. In regions such as the Carpathians, where a considerable fraction of European virgin forest still can be found, the identification and protection of primary forests is formally required by an important regional international treaty. We’re referring to the Carpathian Convention. Signed in May 2003 by seven Carpathian States (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Ukraine), the Carpathian Convention recognizes at the Art. 10 of the Protocol on Sustainable Forest management that ‘Each Party shall take measures in its national territory aimed at identifying  and protecting natural, especially virgin forests of the Carpathians […]’. In this context, the mapping effort of FORESTS&CO could not pass unobserved by the Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (SCC).

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Of Wolves, Bisons and Deportation. Wild Bieszczady Mountains

We’ve recently come back from the Bieszczady Mountains, a mountain range that runs from the extreme south-east of Poland through Ukraine and Slovakia, and is part of the Outer Eastern Carpathians. For those who believe that not much wilderness remains in Europe, then I warmly recommend a visit to these places. Bears, big packs of wolves and herds of free-ranging bisons, all can be encountered in the forests and meadow in the area, as long as one is willing to get up before the birds and wait patiently in one of the little wood hunting towers spread in the area.

Observing the wilderness, however, was not the only reason why us, the Conservation Biogeography Lab  took our students there. Indeed, the Bieszczady Mts are a great place to get some hands-on experience on how to collect field data in biogeography, as this is the core of the Field Methods in Biogeography class, taught yearly by Prof. Tobias Kuemmerle and Laura Kehoe.

What’s impressive about the Bieszczady Mts is how they put you in touch with both Nature and History, and how the two combined into a great land-use science experiment.

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The mess of sampling forest biodiversity

Make sure you don’t miss our new paper ‘One taxon does not fit all: Herb-layer diversity and stand structural complexity are weak predictors of biodiversity in Fagus sylvatica forests’ just published Open-Access on the journal ‘Ecological Indicators’ (2016).

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Forest ecosystems are extremely complex. They host a wide spectrum of organisms (biologists call them taxa) that together compose their biodiversity assets. Plants, mammals, lichens, insects, fungi, birds, anura (frogs), oligochaetes (worms), spiders, mites, cyanobacteria, there is a lot of life out there and biologists struggle to get a complete picture of the whole set of species that could be find in a given forest stand. It is a fact, sampling biodiversity requires time, money and expertise which are not always available. Nevertheless, if we want to correctly prioritize our conservation and restoration efforts, we require a thorough understanding of the spatial distribution of biodiversity.

How can we deal with this problem?
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Thanks for your contribution

The Questionnaire phase of FORESTS and CO is now over.

FORESTS and CO is a collaborative project in which forest researchers and experts work together to make relevant, European-scale analysis on the potential trade-offs between multiple objectives of forest management. In this first phase, we collected information on the spatial distribution of primary forest remnants in the European region (continental Europe with the exception of Russia). Click here for the definitions of ‘Primary forest remnant’

What a better occasion to thank all the participants that contributed with their expertise and helped us understand what kind of data exists how to gather it!

In total we invited 134 people from 32 different European countries. The countries with the the highest share of people contacted were: Germany, Romania, Finland, Czech Republic and Italy.

 

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Pie chart showing the breakdown of the nationalities of the forest scientists and experts invited to fill out the questionnaires

The rate of response was impressive. When accounting for both the responses to the questionnaires and the informal feedbacks, we were contacted by 65 forest researchers and experts, a ratio of response close to 50%. The countries from which we received the highest share of responses were Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Germany and Romania.
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A Collaborative Network – Why and How?

The success of FORESTS and CO heavily depends on the input of the community of forest scientists and experts. Here we describe what the need of constituting a Collaborative Network of researchers and how we are planning to manage the data that will be collected by the network.

The need of an international, collaborative effort

The direct contributions of the study of primary and old-growth forests to develop sustainable silvicultural systems has been so far partially hampered by the fact that the results of most studies are generally context-dependent. Europe is composed by a wealth of unique forest landscapes, each being the result of century-long interactions between the local environment and land-use traditions. Many studies that focused on the multiple functions and services of European forests were conducted exclusively in one or a few forest types, thus making it difficult to upscale their findings to the European level. Furthermore, primary forest remnants for many forest types are indeed very scarce in Europe, and this further complicates the task of drawing some general insights on the trade-offs and synergies between the different ecosystem services provided by the European forests.
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FORESTS & CO – Overview

Background

Forests play a major role in the global carbon cycle, contain a substantial proportion of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and are valued for the services they provide to society1,2. Forest products alone are estimated at $120 billion annually3, although this estimation disregards the value of regulating, cultural and supporting services3. Importantly, forests are major carbon pools and play a critical role in mitigating climate change4, while harboring the majority of the world’s biodiversity2.

Unfortunately, the rate of biodiversity loss is still alarmingly high and accelerates5, which is worrisome considering emerging close links between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and human well-being.

A large body of evidence now suggests biodiversity loss affects the functioning of ecosystems. Likewise, high species diversity is often associated with high productivity and ecosystem service (ES) provisioning, including carbon storage and sequestration. Protecting forests and managing them sustainably is therefore important both to preserve biodiversity, and the services it underpins. However, our ability to understand the consequences of biodiversity loss on the supply of a portfolio of multiple ES is still incomplete.

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What’s FORESTS and CO?

Forests matter.

They matter for a lot of good reasons.

Nevertheless, they matter differently to different people. Reconciling the different expectations on how a forest should be like is really complicated, especially when we recognize that forests matter the most to forest dwelling organisms. And there’s a lot of them, although they rarely join international meetings on Sustainable Forest Management.

FORESTS and CO is a EU project, funded under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions Programme that aims at understanding trade-offs and synergies among different functions that are attributed to forests. The full title of the project is: ‘Co-Benefits and Conflicts between CO2 sequestration and biodiversity conservation in European Forests’.

Intact forests harbor large amounts of carbon and unique biodiversity, suggesting that protecting forests may benefit climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation alike. Yet, forests also provide other essential services, from timber to energy to recreation. Balancing these multiple, sometimes conflicting objectives requires understanding trade-offs and synergies among them. A key question in this context is whether schemes to maintain or increase carbon stocks through forest management actually co-benefit biodiversity. Although frequently promoted, assumptions about such co-benefits have not been rigorously assessed. FORESTS and CO will test whether policies designed to protect either biodiversity or carbon in European  forestsare synergistic or conflicting .

By providing new insights into the synergies and trade-offs between carbon and biodiversity in European forests, we hope to untap unrealized potentials to mitigate climate change and to protect forest biodiversity, and thus to proceed towards a more sustainable future.

 

Definitions – Old-Growth/Primeval/Virgin?

The romantic idea that forests were totally unimpacted by humans until a few centuries ago is a misconception, at least for Europe. When defining a forest like primeval, pristine or virgin, authors have often claimed those forests were never subject to human impact, although this approach may be misleading. Indeed humans have existed for hundreds of thousands of years and had a great potential impact on forest ecosystems at least since they started to use fire, more than 200.000 years ago. Nowadays, indirect impacts, such as the increase in greenhouse gases or in nitrogen deposition, have also become particularly pervasive, with repercussions on forest processes and patterns worldwide. For these reasons, forests totally unimpacted by man are unlikely to exist, although few stands in remote areas may approach this condition.

Several overlapping concepts have been used to describe original, natural or near-natural woodland, and this has been a severe source of misunderstanding.  Terms such as virgin or old-growth forests have sometimes been used ambiguously. Besides, a plethora of other terms were also used, such as natural, pre-settlement, primary, primeval, pristine, relict forests and others, and diversity of languages adds to this complexity.
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