BACCARA – Helping our forests survive the threat of climate change
Forests are a key resource for the planet. They play an important role in preserving
biodiversity, they are a source of natural, renewable materials, and by absorbing
carbon dioxide they play a crucial role in combating the greenhouse effect.
But our forests today face perhaps their biggest challenge yet - climate change. Forests are complex and finely-balanced ecosystems, and even small climate changes could have major repercussions, potentially even causing forests to die out.
Climate change means higher temperatures, changed patterns of rainfall, changed levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an increased frequency of extreme weather events. It leads to longer growing seasons and accelerated water loss. And it is likely to result in more fires, droughts, landslides and insect and disease outbreaks.
It does not require a great deal of imagination to appreciate the catastrophic effects these developments could have on forest ecosystems.
The difficulty lies in predicting specifically what those effects are likely to be so that effective planning can be started.
The EU-funded BACCARA project was set up to help forestry managers address exactly this problem.
Rather than leave the future of Europe's forests to chance or guesswork, the aim of the four-year project, set up in 2009, is to develop the scientific basis needed to enable forest managers and policy makers to evaluate the specific risks to European forests resulting from climate change.
Bringing together 15 research organisations from around Europe, plus Peking University in China, BACCARA is constructing a 3-dimensional risk assessment model, linking climate change, functional diversity and forest productivity.
Within this framework the first objective is to study the effect of climate change on forest biodiversity, in particular by improving our understanding of the impact climate conditions have on the ecological factors which determine which trees flourish and which decline, for example due to their resistance to pest or pathogen outbreaks.
The second objective is to understand how forest biodiversity affects forest productivity. Here, the researchers are studying the significance of three different aspects of tree species variation: their richness (how many different species are there?), their functional diversity (how dissimilar are they?), and their composition (which are they?).
Using the results of these investigations, the ultimate objective is to predict the most likely impacts of climate change on forest productivity. This would be achieved by mapping the probabilities of various climate change scenario onto the perceived susceptibility of forests to climate change. From this, it will be possible to make science-based estimates of the most likely impacts of climate change on forest productivity, tailored for various forest categories.
Because of this innovative research, BACCARA will produce two important sets of guidelines. The first, entitled "What to Grow", provided forest managers with a guide to which tree species to maintain, to introduce or to avoid, based on various climate change scenarios and forest categories.
A second guide, "What to Combat", detailed lists of pest and pathogen species to manage in order to prevent outbreaks.
As a result of the BACCARA project, a key part of the planet's ecosystem would no longer dependent on just 'hoping for the best.'
For the first time, forest managers and policy makers may have the means to plan for a secure future – even in the face of climate change.