Preparing forests for climate change

Automne sur Belledone © G. Loucougaray / Irstea
Automne sur Belledone © G. Loucougaray / Irstea

This year, COP24 is being held between December 3-14 in Poland. Its aim is to ensure implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2016. Several of Irstea's research projects have looked at the way in which ecosystems are adapting to climate change and how they contribute to alleviating it. Let’s take a closer look at the REFORCE project, which aims to understand how forests create resilience mechanisms to deal with climate hazards.

The main objective of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24), which will be held on December 3 to 14, 2018 in Poland, is to finalize guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change adopted following COP21. During the climate summit, Poland will also demonstrate how to achieve greenhouse gas emission neutrality, which is a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and their sequestration by forests and soil.

Uprooted maritime pine, Storm Klaus 2009
Uprooted maritime pine, Storm Klaus 2009 © Philippe Deuffic/Irstea

Launched in 2017, the REFORCE project is fully aligned with the aim of limiting the impact of climate change. It is increasingly clear that forests will be significantly affected: changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric CO2 levels, combined with extreme weather events (storms, fires) could compromise their ability to perform their functions. The services forests provide to society, such as wood production or carbon sequestration, will also be affected. Given these disruptions, there is growing interest in the concept of forest resilience, or a forest's ability to resist and recover. However, the concept is rarely taken into account by current forest management methods due to a lack of understanding of the phenomenon. The REFORCE project, coordinated by the Irstea Grenoble Center and combining 8 European and Canadian partners, aims to bridge these gaps and encourage forest management methods that support resilience.

How do forests resist climate change?

In order to understand the resilience mechanisms used by forests, remote sensing methods linked to the state of vegetation are used to map forest dynamics. "We use several indicators, such as photosynthetic activity, humidity levels or surface temperature, and measure the changes in these values over time to create an overview of the forests and their resilience on a continental scale over the last 15 years," explains Björn Reineking, project coordinator and research at the Irstea Grenoble Center. Map in hand, researchers then focus on the ecological mechanisms that are responsible for this resilience. Two factors that are particularly important to forest management are examined at this stage: the short-term resilience of the species that are currently found in forests when faced with drought, and the long-term resilience to gradual climate change that is primarily expressed by a change in forest composition. Using simulations, scientists examine tree responses in terms of colonization and extinction (which species multiply and which disappear) and their links to the habitat's climate quality.

Adapting forest management to promote resilience

In order to prepare future forests, it is necessary to determine which management methods promote better resilience. "Using simulations of forest dynamics and economic analyses, we assess how to adapt management methods to minimize the impact of climate change. All forests are not affected in the same way: this information can be used to adapt management efficiently, where changes are needed," clarifies Reineking.

Forest manager interview
Forest manager interview © Rachel Barrier/Irstea

At the same time, researchers are carrying out on-site interviews to gain a better understanding of the options and influences that affect forest managers during the decision-making process and therefore the role they can play in promoting forest resilience. Implementing resilience management can be encouraged by promoting effective communication and knowledge transfer between scientists and decision-makers.





Using innovative methods to support public policies

Over time, the REFORCE project will provide innovative methods that will be particularly significant for various public policies. The project is fully aligned with several national climate change adaptation strategies, particularly in France, Slovenia and Austria. Specifically, the forest resilience map will help prioritize areas in which adaptation measures, monitoring programs and development strategies can be used to define adaptation guidelines for forest managers.

Reforce project profile
  • Name: Reforce - REsilience mechanisms for risk adapted FORest management under Climate changE
  • Partners: KU Leuven (Belgium); Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany); Universität Regensburg (Germany); Slovenian Forestry Institute (Slovenia); University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU, Austria); Universidad de Vigo (Spain); Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU, Sweden); Université de Sherbrooke (Canada)
  • Dates: 2017-2020
  • Funding: €776,250
  • Type of project: European project ERA-NET, part of the SUMFOREST framework
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