Forest restoration is not all roses – it comes with a range of challenges, too. Therefore, implementing and upscaling restoration measures is essential for their successful restoration. In our upcoming webinar “European forest restoration: urgently needed but where and how?” organized by SUPERB and IUFRO‘s Task Force ‘Transforming Forest Landscapes for Future Climates and Human Well-Being’ we will discuss how the habitat status of Europe’s forests is currently assessed, and what role data provided by National Forest Inventories can play to inform about forest restoration in Europe. We will also take a deep plunge into our SUPERB demo areas and discover the real-life challenges they are facing to implement restoration on the ground.
Join us on 8th February 4-6pm CET and register here.
By Albert Ciceu, Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW)
Did you know that due to the rapid development of climate change some species are unable to adapt fast enough to the new climatic conditions and might reduce their distribution or even face possible extinction?
In such cases, species distribution models (SDM) come handy since they can be used to identify areas with a potential biodiversity loss and assist species migration to more suitable areas. SDM uses advanced computer algorithms, georeferenced biodiversity observations and geographic layers of environmental information to build predictive models that can be used to make inferences about the potential distribution range of species in space and time.
In the SUPERB project, we use species distribution modelling to develop a European tree species and seed provenance recommendation system called Seed4Forests. Currently, the SUPERB partners in our demonstration areas count on our species and provenance recommendation list when considering restauration activities such as planting, and we hope that in the future this will be a common practice also for other forest restoration projects.
To obtain such a model, well-developed hard skills are required for data wrangling, data manipulation, algorithm selection and fitting, as well as data visualisation. Especially because these tasks are usually executed via a programming language. In late June this year, our team at Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW) in Austria decided that it would be beneficial for some of us to improve and polish some of these skills by attending a species distribution modelling course.
In early July last year, one of my colleagues and I booked early bird tickets to the 8th edition of the Species Distributions Modelling course held in Evora, Portugal, by two renowned and well-established scientists in this field: Miguel Araújo and Babak Naimi. The course was scheduled to start on the 7th of November and last 8 days, during which we would go through all steps involved in building and testing models of species distribution.
The summer passed as fast as you can say ‘Schnitzel’ and here we were catching a flight to Lisbon at 3:30 AM Sunday morning. We had the whole Sunday to wander around amazing and hilly Lisbon were we – despite being sleepy – enjoyed a long walk.
As two tree geeks would normally behave we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit the botanical garden and test our tree identification skills. We both performed well with small exceptions when it came to some Mediterranean tree species and non-native tree species of Europe. Early in the morning we took the bus to Evora, a beautiful, lively university city. We would later learn that Evora’s streets are not ordinary. You can easily hear the sound of Fado music drifting while encountering students dressed as if they are coming from a Quidditch game between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins (the main inspiration of Harry Potter’s uniforms came from Portugal).
But back to our arrival: when we arrived in Evora, the first class was ready to start. We joined the small group of around 12 young scientists who were physically present and 2 more attendees online, eager to find out how and when species distribution models can be useful.
After a quick round of introductions, I was surprised to find out that although we were drawn by the same interest for this course, our backgrounds were very different. Based on their presentation, I could easily divide the group in 3 main clusters: those interested in birds, plants lovers, and marine life enthusiasts.
The course started with a short introduction of the terminology used in species distribution modelling. Prof. Miguel Araujo was mostly responsible for the theoretical aspects of the topic, describing in detail the timeline from the ‘early days’ of SDMs to the cutting-edge research that is now conducted in the world as well as in his labs in Evora and Madrid. He filled our memory citing and describing methodologies applied in different research papers that tackle aspects of species distribution modelling in time and space. Throughout the course he gave us a good understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of ecological niche models while emphasizing the strengths and limitations of those models in the context of different uses.
Prof. Babak Naimi, on the other hand, was responsible for developing our hard skills. He introduced us to the sdm package, a package developed by himself and Miguel with the main purpose of building species distribution models. Throughout the week he described the main functionalities of the package, while during his intense coding sessions we discussed extensively the use of the package in tacking our research questions. It was indeed the perfect mixture of theory and practice.
The 8th and last day of the course was reserved for presenting our work through short presentations. We had been split in small groups of 3 to 5 people and given the task to design and build a species distribution model. Using some data already available at European scale, my group and I developed 3 SDMs for 3 oak species (Quercus frainetto, Quercus cerris and Quercus pubescens) which is of big interest for the SUPERB demo areas. We predicted the current and the future distribution of these species under different climate scenarios. In order to improve the ”projection power” of our model we also predicted the SDM of a new invasive insect species (Corythuca arcuata) as this species has a huge potential to threaten the stability and limit the distribution of the oak species in Europe.
Soon it was time to fly back to the country of Mozart and the city of Johann Strauss. The course was a treat and we are ready and excited to apply our newly acquired skills in the SUPERB project helping you choose the most suitable species for the forests of our future.
An awareness of the need to urgently restore healthy, resilient ecosystems underpins a partnership of major EU funded projects: SUPERB, WaterLANDS, REST-COAST, and MERLIN.Addressing the restoration of forests, wetlands, coastlines and freshwaters respectively, the projects have been funded to support the European Green Deal’s aspirations to foster climate resilience and nature recovery across the continent, alongside the aim of becoming net carbon-neutral by 2050. By promoting the widespread and innovative scaling-up of ecosystem restoration across Europe, the partnership offers a significant opportunity to amplify scientists’ voices in the development of the European Nature Restoration Law. In November 2022, all four sister projects jointly analysed the draft text of the proposed law, and summarized their recommendations in a policy brief.
This important contribution wasdeveloped during a science-policy workshop hold in Brussels on 25th November 2022, organised by the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission and DG R&I, and attended by the project coordinators and by representatives of EEA, JRC, DG-ENV, DG-AGRI, DG-MARE, DG-REGIO and DG-CLIMA.
The policy brief was submitted to the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs of the EU Parliament’s Environmental committee in advance of debates on the draft legislation in 2023.
The Forest Restoration Talks organized jointly by SUPERB and IUFRO‘s Task Force ‘Transforming Forest Landscapes for Future Climates and Human Well-Being’ investigate forest restoration questions from diverse scientific perspectives, with alternating focus on the global and European levels. The series brings together researchers, practitioners, NGOs, policy makers and other interested stakeholders to explore practical forest restoration approaches, experiences and challenges worldwide.
You can find the complete schedule of the upcoming events below. To watch our previous webinars, click here.
8th of February 2023
Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Wageningen University, Iciar Alberdi, Spanish National Research Council, Jürgen Bauhus, University of Freiburg, Harald Mauser, European Forest Institute & Sara Filipek, Wageningen University
”European forest restoration: urgently needed, but where and how?”
Targeting researchers, practitioners, NGOs, policy makers and other interested stakeholders, the webinar series will investigate forest restoration questions from diverse scientific perspectives, with alternating focus on the global and European levels. This includes exploring practical forest restoration approaches, experiences and challenges worldwide.
Taking place on Wednesday, 9 November from 16:00-17:30 CET, the first webinar features forest restoration specialistJohn Stanturf as a speaker, discussing the topic “If nature is the solution, what is the problem? A perspective from forest landscape restoration”.
Following webinars will take place every second Wednesday of the month at the same time. Save the date for the second webinar on 14 December, when KU Leuven professor Bart Muys will discuss “Biodiversity as a key asset for forest restoration in Europe“!
This 3rd of October is World Habitat Day! To celebrate the occasion, SUPERB coordinator Elisabeth Pötzelsberger, Head of Resilience Programme at the European Forest Institute (EFI), explained the importance of “prestoration” – the combination of restoration and climate adaptation – for resilient and functional forest habitats. She discussed how it differs from classical restoration approaches, highlighted its relevance to the new EU Nature Restoration Law and listed concrete examples of how prestoration is being applied within the SUPERB demonstration areas in Germany and in the Czech Republic.
What is prestoration? How does it differ from more classical approaches to forest restoration?
Why do we actually restore restore forests? There are large restoration needs, for example, when forests are impacted by hot temperatures, forest fires, and also by prolonged droughts that will also cause outbreaks of pests and pathogens, which can kill forests on large landscape levels. But also to make our forests more diverse again in Europe and to bring back important habitats that, for example, are associated with deadwood and old-growth elements, which have become rare across Europe.
When people talk about restoration, they might think of different objectives that may be located along the so-called restoration continuum. The classical restoration continuum ranges from fighting the drivers of degradation over remediation of ecosystem functions up to full ecological restoration, where species diversity, ecosystem structure and function are restored. However, climate change adds a new dimension to this restoration continuum. Therefore, the consideration of adaptation in restoration, what we can call prestoration, is becoming so important.
Forest researchers and practitioners are therefore supporting this concept, which means the combination of restoration ambitions with the need for adaptation. Adaptation of tree species composition and forest structure in order to increase the resilience of forests under climate change and also ensure forest functioning in the future.
Can you give a few examples that illustrate how prestoration works?
There are already good examples where we are practising prestoration, like in our two SUPERB demonstration areas in central Europe – in Germany (North Rhine-Westfalia) and in the Czech Republic. These regions are naturally dominated by beech forests but some decades or centuries ago have been converted into Norway Spruce plantations.
Now with prolonged droughts, these Norway Spruce forests have been severely damaged by subsequent bark beetle infestations. In SUPERB, we are not only restoring them back into native beech forest ecosystems but already looking into more drought-tolerant habitat types like oak/hornbeam forests and mixing them with even more broadleaved tree species to increase forest resilience and functionality also for future climate conditions.
What challenges does prestoration entail?
Prestoration is neither simple nor straightforward. With climate change, we are really entering uncharted territory. We will be and already are experiencing conditions that we have never experienced before. Also our native forest species are not adjusted to these new conditions. Looking for more adapted species in the Mediterranean may be an option. However, there is also large uncertainty associated with it because we don’t know, for example, whether these species will be truly suited to the climatic conditions that will occur in 100 years’ time, because there is still a broad range of possible climate change scenarios.
And then there is another challenge: forests do not consist only of trees. There are many other plant and animal species that live in these forests and are also dependent on these tree species. So, will they be fit to survive in these climatic conditions and will they be happy to thrive in these forests which may consist of different tree species than today?
What are the prerequisites for successful prestoration?
Due to this large uncertainty, in SUPERB we are convinced that we need flexible approaches and to revisit decisions as we go along. And of course, with SUPERB we are also providing continuous scientific support which will allow us to find out which are the right species compositions and how we can assist the migration of other plant and animal species across the landscape so they can find in the future forest habitats and climate conditions that they are adjusted to.
How is prestoration relevant to the new EU Restoration Law?
So this prestoration concept, this idea of integrating adaptation into restoration, will be of crucial importance if we want to achieve the overall goal of the new EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and the EU’s Forest Strategy, which is to restore European biodiversity and continuous provision of ecosystem services in the future.
These Biodiversity and Forest Strategies of the EU now will be supported by the Nature Restoration legislation which is currently being debated at the EU level. It remains to be seen how much space will be given actually to adaptation in this new restoration proposal.
But already experiencing this high-speed climate change, I think it is pretty clear: we have to look ahead and not backwards if we want to be prepared for what is coming.
The first workshop for SUPERB in Denmark at our demo site in Northern Jutland. Eleven stakeholders took part in the workshop, which spanned over a whole Saturday in the beginning of September. The participants included forest rangers, local communities, visitors, nature watchers, riders and employees from the local national park. The biggest concern for most of the participants was the preceding monitoring work for the project. They were worried that the endangered and vulnerable species in the area would not be taken in to consideration before the restoration actions. The other big topic discussed was the recreational use of the area and how to guarantee access to it. Stakeholders’ concerns were specifically related to the restoration of natural hydrology, which could lead to flooding of trails used for riding and hiking. We realized that most stakeholders are interested in the use and facilities of the area, and less in biodiversity conservation and forest management. Finally, we aimed at establishing a good relationship with the participants (and with this the local community) so nobody felt left out or not heard. This together with trying to implement the wishes from the stakeholders will be challenging for the project, but it is also very inspiring.
As part of the workshop, I was contacted by a journalist from DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation). DR is the oldest and largest media enterprise in Denmark. I was interviewed for a radio interview and based on this, an article was prepared and published on their national news site (dr.dk). The interview (in Danish) mainly focused on nature and biodiversity in the restoration area.
Promoting peaceful coexistence between bears and humans, reconciling indigenous and industrial forest uses, and creating climate-change adapted forests in a former war zone: these are some of the challenges faced by our SUPERB demo areas in Spain, Sweden and Croatia.
At the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab, the managers of the SUPERB demos in these three locations introduced their approaches to forest restoration and worked on solutions to their governance challenges together with a panel of experts.
Do you want to find out more about their work and meet the faces behind our restoration case studies? Then watch the video interviews below, recorded at the Lab:
SUPERB researchers Niels Strange from University of Copenhagen and Joseph William Bull from Kent University have recently contributed to the “Correspondence” section in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, elaborating on the policy movement away from Russia as a response to the Ukraine crisis and how the recent EU changes to land use policy could jeopardize hard-won gains in efforts to combat biodiversity decline in Europe. The authors emphasize the expected market pull that will increase pressure on forest and open land, and urge the EU Commission and member states to retain an ambitious and long-term perspective on restoring biodiversity. This requires that biodiversity and land-use policies are robust in times of crisis and shifting political priorities — because the current crisis is not the first, and will not be the last. Read more about the recommendations (paid subscription) here.