Scientists estimate that by 2095 forest services will decrease on average by 52% in Europe’s Mediterranean area

A new study models how changing climate conditions will impact forest services such as wood for construction and paper, edible fruits, leaves, roots and other services.

Forest fires are one of the main causes of the decline of tree diversity. © drotik - stock.adobe.com 2023

The results suggest that without active human intervention, the services that forest provide in Europe will on average decrease by 15% until 2095. Under a high carbon emission scenario, the average decline would be 23% for Europe and up to 70% for the Mediterranean area. Soil protection and fuelwood will be the most affected services in the Mediterranean region with an average loss of 53% to 57%.

Tree diversity is projected to decline in many areas of Europe due to more and more common and severe forest fires, windstorms, droughts, insect outbreaks and biological invasions. With tree species disappearing from forests, we lose the benefits that we used to draw from them, like wood for construction or certain fruits.

While climate change will also expand the ranges where certain trees can grow, species may not be able to spread to territories outside of their native ranges.

Assisted tree migration can help reduce loss of forest ecosystem services

The authors developed a new analytical framework for designing ‘optimal’ communities of forest tree species to help maximise the services forests provide. Using this framework, the scientists estimated that human interventions to spread tree species that are a better fit for future local climate conditions could reduce losses of forest services by an average of 10%.

Even though this approach could mitigate the losses in the Mediterranean, they would still remain as high as 33%, and even up to 54% under a high emissions scenario. Specifically, for fuelwood and soil protection in the Mediterranean, it could reduce the loss by 18-19%.

As the approach outlined in the article is applicable to different climate pathways, it may provide reliable advice for forest management for more or less severe climate change.

The EU to invest in more biodiverse forests

EU policies underline the need to invest in more biodiverse forests, which are more resilient to climate change. This is already made clear in the EU Forest Strategy and the recently adopted guidelines on biodiversity-friendly afforestation, reforestation and tree planting.

The Commission is working on a proposal for a new forest monitoring law to help us understand – and therefore manage – our forests better, with a view to ensuring resilient forest ecosystems and enabling forests to deliver on their multifunctional role.  

Related links

Assisted tree migration can reduce but not avert the decline of forest ecosystem services in Europe

EU Forest Strategy

Guidelines on Biodiversity-Friendly Afforestation, Reforestation and Tree Planting

Forest monitoring law