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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