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.
In Europe, which accounts for 25% of the world's forests, forestry and associated
industries employ some 4 million people.
© Fotolia, 2012
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
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