Climate change is significantly impacting forests. Forests play a key role in many ecological processes and provide a large number of services. Irstea scientists are using their work to promote sustainable and sensible management practices for these valuable ecosystems.
Forests and forest landscapes around the world must cope with global changes such as climate change, particularly during extreme meteorological events. The new and evolving impact of pathogens and the changing social demands relating to forestry and land use (such as increasing demand for meat and dairy products, bioenergy production and environmental services) also put pressure on forest biodiversity.
Forests are a key component of land ecosystems and play a vital role in regulating the global carbon cycle, protecting diversity, regulating climate as well as in other ecological processes such as hydrology and nutrient dynamics. They currently produce a complex range of products, from forest ecosystem services to wood and other bioproducts. Deforestation and forest degradation are threatening the survival of many species and reducing the ability of forests to provide essential services.1
Consequently, forests need to be managed in a sustainable and rational manner. For this reason, scientists from around the world are studying forests and looking to understand how they operate and how they can be managed. Among them are researchers from the Land, Environment, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information (TETIS) research unit at the Irstea Montpellier Center
Forest biodiversity under threat
Despite their crucial role, forests continue to lose ground. Although they covered around 4 billion 128 million hectares in 1990, by 2015 they only covered 3 billion 999 million hectares, or 30.6% of the land. About 129 million hectares of forest, an area almost the size of South Africa, have been lost since 1990.2 According to satellite data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Amazon rainforest is losing an area the size of a football field every day. Deforestation can occur rapidly, such as when a fire sweeps across the landscape (as is currently the case in Brazil) or when the forest is clear-cut to make space for an oil palm plantation. While deforestation rates seem to be declining in some countries, they remain excessively high in others, including Brazil and Indonesia, and according to the WWF, they are a significant threat to our most precious forests.
Deforestation and forest degradation also have an impact on the lives of the 1.6 billion people whose livelihood depends on forests. One billion of these are among the poorest in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“Given these challenges, there is a growing need for forest ecosystems and landscapes that are adapted to ecosystem service requirements and to changing environments,” explains Sandra Luque, scientist with the TETIS unit. “In this context, we are looking at forest sustainability and are working to identify how forests can be managed sustainably.”
Implementing sustainable management practices
Increasingly, a market value is being attributed to forest ecosystem services (wood production, climate regulation, leisure activities, food production, etc.), changing the value systems linked to forestry. Critics believe that the quantification of products taken from forests is turning them into a “commodity” and decreasing their value (including their spiritual and cultural value). However, in the absence of any price attached to these values, they risk being ignored by decision-makers and businesses. Moving landscapes towards sustainability often requires radical changes, such as the way in which forest landscapes are valued and the relationships between the various stakeholders and their respective roles. This calls for a holistic view of forests as ecosystems with a key role in maintaining biodiversity and providing sustainable ecosystem services. “We want to highlight the importance of an integrated approach to landscapes that supports sustainability in order to achieve balanced forest management integrating multiple aims, including biodiversity and conservation aims in accordance with sustainable development targets defined by the United Nations,” explains Luque. “We are focusing on changes to forest landscapes, using a holistic, global view of forests as ecosystems with a key role in maintaining biodiversity and providing sustainable ecosystem services.”
Solutions such as forest landscape restoration (FLR) can reverse the effects of deforestation and degradation, making it possible to recover the environmental, social, climate and economic advantages of forests.
The aim of scientists is to define how and to what extent the state of a forest ecosystem and its activities should be included in the overall assessment of ecosystems at various scales. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are incentives offered, for example, to landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide some sort of ecological service such as biodiversity conservation. It is an important practice for forests in northern Argentina, supported by the Argentine National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).
Scientists from INRAE, the outcome of the merger between Inra and Irstea on January 1, 2020, are working with different countries around the world, including Argentina, Chile and Brazil in South America. In 2018, training sessions and several seminars were organized in Argentina in partnership with INTA. Discussions focused on processes involving the use of native rather than introduced species, as these are better adapted to local conditions. It is also important to consider agroforestry practices that encourage native crops such as Yerba Mate, a traditional South American drink.
“We need to understand the interactions of various forest management practices to design appropriate, healthy and sustainable forest organization,” explains Luque. Luque is organizing a special session on this subject as part of the IUFRO World Congress in Brazil this autumn: "Forest biodiversity in the framework of global change and the role of landscape sustainability science."
Irstea and Inra at the IUFRO
For the first time, the World Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) will be held in South America, in Curibata, Brazil, from September 29 to October 5, 2019.
IUFRO is an international cooperative network of forest scientists. It brings together more than 15,000 scientists in almost 700 member organizations in over 120 countries. Its aim is to promote excellence in research and knowledge sharing and to encourage the development of scientific solutions to problems linked to forests in a way that benefits forests and the global population as a whole.
Irstea and Inra are active members of this organization. Sandra Luque will organize a special session: “Forest biodiversity in the framework of global change and the role of landscape sustainability science.”
Read the list of Irstea and Inra contributions here
- Consult the web pages of the TETIS research unit and the Irstea Montpellier Center
- Consult the IUFRO World Congress website
- Feature. Forests and energy transition