Transnational actions promoting adaptation of Central European forest ecosystems to global change

(SUSTREE News Article, March 2020)

The year 2019 was a time unprecedented environmental crisis across the globe. Meteorologists reported new temperature records throughout the world. Forest fires considerably affected the Amazon and Australia regions. Central Europe experienced enduring bark beetle crisis in forests dominated by Norway spruce. In the same year, the “Friday for Future” movement started awakening the environmental concerns of a new generation, putting the fight against climate change on the political agenda again. The increasing societal demands and upcoming governmental programs such as the European Green New Deal give hope that global warming can be halted around a temperature increase of 2 degrees. Notwithstanding, practical solutions are needed to mitigate climate change and to adapt the endangered ecosystem to already altered conditions. Forest area and forest growing stock increased within all Central European countries throughout the last 80 years. However, the ongoing global change already starts to alter the capacity of European forests to provide vital ecosystem services and raises fears to reverse the positive forest growth within the last century. Scientists throughout Europe are developing and testing management activities that help reducing forest vulnerability as well as enhancing the resilience of forest ecosystems.Special attention is being given to the regeneration phase because new trees planted should withstand the upcoming climatic changes throughout the next 60 to 100 years. „The challenge for forest managers is to select tree species and seed origins for regeneration in 2020 without knowing if the climate in 2100 will be 2 or 4 degrees warmer than today and under unknown precipitation patterns. Our previous regeneration practice is of little use for such conditions,” says Dr. Silvio Schüler, Head of the Department of Forest Growth and Silviculture at the Austrian Research Centre for Forests, BFW, and coordinator of the Interreg Central Europe Project SUSTREE. Until today, forests have been regenerated either naturally from local parental trees or artificially with seedlings from the so-called Regions of Provenance. These regions should reflect similar environmental conditions and thus theoretically guarantee locally well-adapted seedlings within the present and future environmental conditions. Therefore in forestry practice, the paradigm “local is the best” has historically evolved.  

The SUSTREE team, which consisted of scientists and forest experts from Poland, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Czechia, and Austria, demonstrated that with rapidly changing future environments, this paradigm is not valid anymore. This team consolidated current scientific knowledge on adaptation patterns across Central Europe and developed a new database with harmonized access to national registers within this region. Accordingly, new transnational models for seed transfer of seven major tree species were developed utilizing the scientific concept of so-called assisted migration. The “local is the best” paradigm was reformulated as “well-adapted is the best.” According to this suggestion, forest managers should plant today already those tree species and seed provenances that will be well-adapted to the likely climate at the end of the century. Prof. Dr. Milan Lstibůrek from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague explains the new concept. “Even though we cannot exactly predict which tree species and seed material is the most resilient and best growing within the next 80 years, our data and models provide a reliable comparison. Our results indicate that local seed sources will be maladapted in most cases. Instead, improved and well-defined seed material often originating from regions outside the respective countries is recommended for several regions and tree species.” These conclusions of the SUSTREE project show that solutions aiming at adapted forests under future climate require stronger transnational cooperation and adjustments of national and European legislation. Accordingly, two Policy briefs with the necessitated changes were presented to policymakers and shared with a broad range of stakeholders at SUSTREE events in Prague and Brussels as well as at forest policy events in Budapest, Berlin, and Vienna.

The above results were exemplified to forest and conservation practitioners within three pilot actions in the Austrian state forests ÖBf and two Czech national parks Krkonoše and Podyjí. These actions included assessment of forest vulnerability under climate change and resulted in the formulation of most-appropriate seed management scenarios. To provide SUSTREE solutions to a broader range of forest managers, vulnerability maps, along with seed transfer models, were integrated into a unique decision support system, which is now publically available as standalone smartphone and PC applications. SUSTREE is a cooperation project with eight partners from six Central European countries (Austria, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) aiming at the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Forest Tree Diversity in Climate Change. Funded by the Interreg CENTRAL EUROPE Programme, SUSTREE actively promotes climate change adaptation of forests by fostering and enabling transnational adaptive management of forest reproductive material.

Contact: Dr. Silvio Schüler (Head of Department of Forest Growth and Silviculture ), Austrian Research Center for Forests (BFW) , Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8, 1130 Wien, Tel: +43 (1) 878 38-2228 , E-Mail: