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Environ Res Lett. 2017 Mar 16;12(3):034027. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5ef1.

Are forest disturbances amplifying or canceling out climate change-induced productivity changes in European forests?

Author information

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg, P.O. Box 601203, 14412 Potsdam, Germany.
Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9SY, United Kingdom.
Dept. of Landscape architecture, Planning and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), P.O. Box 66, 230 53 Alnarp, Sweden.
Forest Research Centre, School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal.
Forest Ecology, Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
BIOGECO, INRA-Univ. Bordeaux, Talence, France.
Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia (CTFC-CEMFOR), Ctra. de St. Llorenç de Morunys, km 2, 25280 Solsona, Spain.
UMR 1391 ISPA, INRA, Bordeaux Sciences Agro, F-33140 Villenave d'Ornon, France.
Department de Biologia Evolutiva, Ecologia i Ciències Ambientals, Universitat de Barcelona. Av. Diagonal 643, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.
CREAF. Campus de Bellaterra Edifici C, 08193, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain.
University of Eastern Finland, School of Forest Sciences, P.O. BOX 101, FI-80101 Joensuu, Finland.
Wageningen University and Research Centre, 6700AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Institute of Silviculture, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Peter Jordan Straße 82, 1190 Vienna, Austria.
European Forest Institute, Yliopistokatu 6, 80100 Joensuu, Finland.
Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology, University of Greifswald, Soldmannstr. 15, 17487 Greifswald, Germany.
European Forest Institute, Mediterranean Regional Office (EFIMED), Sant Pau Historic Site, Sant Leopold Pavilion, Carrer St. Antoni M. Claret 167, 08025 Barcelona, Spain.
Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E box 2411, 3001 Leuven, Belgium.
Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Landscape Dynamics, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.
Chair of Forestry Economics and Forest Planning, University of Freiburg, Tennenbacherstr. 4, 79106 Freiburg, Germany.


Recent studies projecting future climate change impacts on forests mainly consider either the effects of climate change on productivity or on disturbances. However, productivity and disturbances are intrinsically linked because 1) disturbances directly affect forest productivity (e.g. via a reduction in leaf area, growing stock or resource-use efficiency), and 2) disturbance susceptibility is often coupled to a certain development phase of the forest with productivity determining the time a forest is in this specific phase of susceptibility. The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of forest productivity changes in different forest regions in Europe under climate change, and partition these changes into effects induced by climate change alone and by climate change and disturbances. We present projections of climate change impacts on forest productivity from state-of-the-art forest models that dynamically simulate forest productivity and the effects of the main European disturbance agents (fire, storm, insects), driven by the same climate scenario in seven forest case studies along a large climatic gradient throughout Europe. Our study shows that, in most cases, including disturbances in the simulations exaggerate ongoing productivity declines or cancel out productivity gains in response to climate change. In fewer cases, disturbances also increase productivity or buffer climate-change induced productivity losses, e.g. because low severity fires can alleviate resource competition and increase fertilization. Even though our results cannot simply be extrapolated to other types of forests and disturbances, we argue that it is necessary to interpret climate change-induced productivity and disturbance changes jointly to capture the full range of climate change impacts on forests and to plan adaptation measures.


fire; forest models; forest productivity-disturbances-climate change interactions; insects; storms; trade-offs

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