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© G. Maisonneuve

Terrestrial ecological systems: dynamics, vulnerabilities and engineering 

In summary

In a word

  • 82 persons including 76 researchers, engineers and technicians
  • 74 top-ranking publications per year on average

Lines of scientific research

  • Dynamics and sustainable management of terrestrial ecosystems 
  • Risks, responses and restoration
  • Biodiversity and indicators of ecological quality

Editorial : Sustainable management of terrestrial ecosystems

Philip Roche, Deputy science director, SEDYVIN

Population increase, with its resulting changes in land usage practices in the territories (urbanization, intensification of agricultural practices, development of tourism, etc.), and climate change raise the issue of the sustainability of ecosystems and in particular that of the land ecosystems (forests, upland pastures, etc.). In a context of global change, can these environments be sustainably managed in a way that can maintain market services (timber production, hunting reserve, livestock grazing, etc.) and non-market elements such as biodiversity, landscape and protection against natural risks, services that they provide for humanity? 
This is the essence of the work being done in terms carried out by of the research topic SEDYVIN (Terrestrial ecological systems: dynamics, vulnerabilities and engineering). The goal is to achieve an enhanced understanding of the ecological dynamics and interactions between ecosystems and society, thereby providing methodologies and operational tools to pass on to public policymakers, but also to the many actors involved in the drafting and follow-up of management policies (research consultancies, natural spaces management, decentralized services, etc.). This work is being conducted in close cooperation with the actors in the field (the French Forestry Department (ONF), nature parkreserves, etc.), whose expert knowledge and data enrich and validate the research outcomes. 
Thanks to the diversity of the locations of the research topic, with teams in three Irstea centres (Nogent-sur-Vernisson, Grenoble and Aix-en-Provence) and a joint unit with Rouen the University of Rouen (ECODIV laboratory) the main types of mainland terrestrial ecosystems can be covered. The particular focus is on the forest and the diversity of ecosystem services that it supplies including timber, protection against gravitational risks in mountain areas, carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Furthermore, Irstea expertise in the sector of forest management and the preservation of biodiversity is recognized both in France and throughout Europe, together with its work on the impact of climate change on forest dynamics. The Institute has a strong presence in European research projects and in international academic networks in these fields. 
The work conducted in the context of targeted research is facilitating responses to increasing numbers of requests on topics such as combating fire risk, protection against natural risks in mountain areas, rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems, conversion of the biomass to create energy and fostering ecological continuity. These are all fields conducive to partnerships with socioeconomic actors and consequently to knowledge transfer, which is an integral part of the Irstea mission. 

Selected research projects

Forest and energy transition


Fences and forest biodiversity

Interview with a partner

A complementary approach to the forests planted for protection

The richness of the collaboration between Irstea and the French national forestry department ONF lies in reconciling research and the reality on the ground. In the department of the Isère, this partnership is particularly important in terms of protection against risks in mountain areas.

Between 2009 and 2012, ONF worked with Irstea in the framework of the European Interreg project on forests planted for protection, whose main goal was to look at the forest as a "protective structure" in risk prevention strategies. “We carried out mapping work in the 27 communes which comprised the conurbation of Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, explains Henri Moulin, technical project leader in the Analysis Department of the ONF Isère agency.This zoning system enabled the conurbation to define its forest maintenance and management policy. In 2015, it requested us to renew this study over an expanded perimeter since the metropolitan area now has 49 communes. This work was completed in mid-2016.”

Other research on the forest ecosystem jointly mobilizes the Irstea teams and the ONF Isère agency in work that includes modelling of rock falls, tests of protection nets fixed on trees, a study of the adaptation of the timber species to climate change, among other things. “Our role is to provide our management experience, but also to put forward forest sites.”

In addition to the protective forests, ONF is closely following Irstea research on the use of Lidar to evaluate timber resources. “A joint project on this subject will soon be launched in the Chartreuse Massif”, according to Henri Moulin. 

Scientific observatory

Networking of the Orléans forest workshop site
OPTMix workshop site

In the state-owned Orléans forest, Irstea has recently installed OPTMix, an experimental long-term system to study the impact of global changes, notably climate-related, on the way forest ecosystems function.

Comprising 33 instrumented plots over a total surface of 40 ha, OPTMix facilitates a crossover study of two silviculture models (variable density and composition of the trees), also taking into consideration the wild ungulates (wild boar, deer, roe deer) about the way the forest functions. This workshop site, the only one of its kind in Europe, contributes to the national GIS network “Data cooperative on the growth of forest populations”. OPTMix recently incorporated the national forest monitoring network SOERE F-ORE-T, a long-term observation and experimental system for environmental research certified by AllEnvi. Some of the SOERE F-ORE-T sites, including OPTMix, are currently candidates for the formation of a network of experimental platforms across Europe in the framework of AnaEE Europe. By incorporating these networks, Irstea enjoys increased scientific influence in the forest ecosystem monitoring sector, and benefits from new exchanges and collaborations and from the opportunity to conduct multisite experiments

AnaEE Europe is a new European infrastructure for research on ecosystems