Mixed Forests May Not Resist Climate Change

Mixed Forests May Not Resist Climate ChangeAutumnal mixed forest in Germany. Image: By Christian Hueller

Variety is not just life’s spice, but its support system. But it may not be so simple for mixed forests, researchers say.

German researchers have confirmed once again that a good forest is a mixed forest, a natural one, with a diversity of species. The more diverse the forest, the better it becomes at doing what forests do.

Forests with a greater number of species grow at a faster rate, store more carbon, and are more resistant to pests and diseases, according to a six-nation study of European woodlands.

But this safety-in-species-numbers approach may not offer quite the protection against climate change and its consequences that such a finding should predict. A second study by European researchers suggests that when conditions become extremely wet, or extremely dry, diversity may not confer automatic resilience.

The message is that healthy, diverse, natural forest systems remain important buffers against climate change – but also that climate extremes could diminish the capacity of the forest to absorb carbon and limit global warming.

At the heart of both studies is a deeper concern about the response of the natural world to human-induced change, in the destruction of habitat, the loss of the plants, birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and reptiles that depend on habitat, and in the steady increase in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, as a consequence of profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

“There are numerous and non-trivial exceptions to the purported general rule that biodiversity increases stability”

Repeated studies have confirmed that the world’s forests are under threat. Repeated studies have confirmed that in overall rewards for humanity, undisturbed natural forests deliver a greater economic return. And repeated studies have confirmed that rising global temperatures offer a threat to plant diversity around the planet in general and to Europe in particular.

Researchers at the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Germany report in the journal Ecology Letters that they selected plots of forest in Germany, Finland, Poland, Romania, Italy and Spain.

Within these plots the numbers of species varied: there might be one species, or five. The German plot, for example was home to beech, oak, Norway spruce, birch and hornbeam.

The scientists then measured 26 functions in these plots that could answer questions about nutrients, carbon cycles, growth and resilience and forest regeneration. Those stands of timber with more species grew faster and withstood pests and disease assault better than those with fewer.

Christian Wirth, who directs the centre, and heads the department for systematic botany at Leipzig University, said: “Our summers will be drier and longer as a result of climate change. We are therefore presuming that in future, it will be even more important to manage forests in a way that they have a high diversity of tree species.”

Mixed answer

But a study in the Journal of Ecology suggests that the answer may not be so simple.

Researchers led by Hans de Boeck from the University of Antwerp report that they looked at a wide range of studies of what scientists call ecosystem stability and biodiversity during climate extremes – that is, unusual heat, drought or flooding.

The answer, they found, was mixed. A greater range of diversity in an ecosystem seemed to speed up recovery after an extreme climatic event, but if the event was extreme enough biodiversity alone might not offer much protection.

The relationship between diversity and resistance wasn’t always obvious. Researchers, the scientists suggest, have more questions to resolve.

In the stilted language of sciencespeak, the researchers conclude that “there are numerous and non-trivial exceptions to the purported general rule that biodiversity increases stability. This raises the question of whether existing concepts of biodiversity-stability derived from the context of mild fluctuations are readily transposable to extreme events.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

Related Books:

List Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $19.95 $11.83 You save: $8.12


List Price: $24.95
Sale Price: $24.95 $16.96 You save: $7.99


List Price: $16.99
Sale Price: $16.99 $7.61 You save: $9.38


enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?
by Just Have a Think
A Blue Ocean Event, or Ice-Free Arctic, is the source of almost fever pitch speculation in the climate science world.…
Climate Change - The Facts by Sir David Attenborough
by David Attenborough, BBC
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential…
Why it’s time to think about human extinction
by Kerwin Rae
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist,…
Record Temperatures 20-25C Above Norm in far North
by Paul Beckwith
The Northwest Territories of Canada had March temperatures above 20C for the first time (hit 21.6C or 71F); breaking…
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
by Chris Hawes
According to a recent major UN report, if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 °C and prevent the most catastrophic…
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
by Matthew Brookhouse
Every autumn we are treated to one of nature’s finest seasonal annual transitions: leaf colour change and fall.
Climate denial isn’t stopping climate action.
by David Wallace-Wells
Climate change denial draws headlines. But is it actually an obstacle to climate action? A great majority of Americans…
Energy Storage: How to store renewable energy?
by Total
Under your bed, in the attic even on your mobile phone, it seems there's never enough storage. It turns out it's also…

LATEST ARTICLES

Crops at risk from changing climate
Crops at risk from changing climate
by Tim Radford
Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a…
Seeing The Planet Break Down In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – How To Turn Your Pain Into Action
Seeing The Planet In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – Turn Your Pain Into Action
by Cameron Brick
Environmentalism can feel like a drag. People trying to reduce their environmental impact often feel stressed and…
Global Inequality Is 25% Higher Than It Would Have Been In A Climate-stable World
by Nicholas Beuret
Those least responsible for global warming will suffer the most. Poorer countries – those that have contributed far…
Jason Kenney's Victory Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
Jason Kenney's Victory In Alberta Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
by D.T. Cochrane
Jason Kenney has led the United Conservative Party to victory in Alberta. There were manyobjectionablecomponents to the…
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
by Roland Ennos, University of Hull
In cities around the world, trees are often planted to help control temperatures and mitigate the effects of the “urban…
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
by Global Warming & Climate Change
But Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led activist group that has advocated for the…
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
by Amin Al-Habaibeh
Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be.
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
by Jackson Holtz
Managed retreat in the face of sea level rise will be a mixed bag, researchers predict.