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UA studies how to improve forest management for forests to provide multiple ecosystem services

The paper, by experts from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, has been published in the journal Nature Communications


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Pictures of Central European forests taken during the study.     By: Maria Felipe Lucia


Alicante. Thursday 22 November 2018

Forests provide many different benefits or ecosystem services. Timber production is the most obvious of these but forests also provide a place to relax and enjoy nature, they regulate the climate locally and they store a lot of carbon. However, forest management has usually focused on only maximising a few of these benefits and mostly on timber production. In order to see how forest management could be improved, so that forests provide multiple ecosystem services, the University of Bern, together with experts from the University of Alicante and research centres from Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, investigated the effect of a series of forest features on 14 ecosystem services in Central European forests.

Producing a lot of timber is usually the main goal of forest management and in Europe that has meant growing a few economically valuable tree species in uniform stands in which the trees are all the same age. However, although they might produce a lot of timber these forests do not provide a lot of other benefits. “In some cases forests are managed for other values like habitat conservation or recreation. However, this management also focusses on only a few benefits and it is still unclear what kind of forest management would deliver a large range of different benefits,” University of Bern PhD and lead author of the paper María Felipe Lucia explains.

This study looked at many different forest attributes, such as the number of tree and shrub species the forest contained, how variable its structure was and how old the trees were. After identifying which of these attributes promoted particular services, the experts showed that forests with old trees, many different shrub species and a heterogeneous structure, including gaps, were the best for delivering many different services.

This study has practical management implications for foresters, responsible for forest or woodland management. According to María Felipe Lucia, “We could show that diverse and old forests were generally the best but there are also certain services that are best provided by dense beech forests, so forest management needs to focus on particular forest attributes to promote particular services.”

The study also looked at how different forest services related to each other. The researcher from the University of Bern continues: “To manage forests to supply many services we need to know how to reduce trade-offs between them and this study uses a new approach to identify some of the factors involved.” Some trade-offs between services may be unavoidable because certain services are maximised in open forests whereas others can only be provided by quite dense, closed canopy stands.

UA Department of Ecology researcher Santiago Soliveres states that “our results show that promoting certain forest attributes is good for a lot of services but there is no forest type that can deliver all of the service we might want. We therefore probably want a mixed management system where we design diverse forest landscapes which contain a mix of patches with different attributes”.

To adapt this study to our region, the UA researcher explains, it would be useful to investigate the most common forest types in south-eastern Iberian Peninsula, i.e. pine and holm oak forests, as well as crucial ecosystem services in the Mediterranean, such as reducing fire risk or adapting to drier conditions climate change is likely to bring about.

The study, titled “Multiple forest attributes underpin the supply of multiple ecosystem services”, has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.




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