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Investigating potential future climate, disturbance and forest management effects

How can we increase the resilience of our forest to be better prepared for future natural disturbances and climate change, while maintaining a high level of wood production, carbon storage, and habitat quality for biodiversity? The project Innovative forest management strategies for a resilient bioeconomy under climate change and disturbances (I-MAESTRO) aims at improving the scientific basis for developing adequate forest management strategies. In an interview series, we are introducing the different I-MAESTRO partners and their roles in the project – and we are sharing very personal perspectives from different researchers involved. We are now introducing Mats Mahnken, PhD researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

What is PIK contributing to I-Maestro?

PIK is involved in I-Maestro with tasks regarding forest modelling and simulation of forest dynamics taking into account environmental change effects and forest management. It is using the forest model 4C (‘FORESEE’ – Forest Ecosystems in a Changing Environment) at different spatial scales and will also be involved in work dealing with data for model comparisons and data for calibration. Thus, we are applying the expertise of the working group on Forest and Ecosystem Resilience at PIK from prior projects that focused on modelling shifts in temperature and precipitation and possible adaptive forest management on European forests as well as projects on model comparison and data harmonization.

Mats Mahnken (photo: private)

Where does your specific expertise/background come in?

Many aspects of what I have learned in my studies of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen link to the methods and topics of the project. Specifically, the systems view that is underlying our approach to describe forest ecosystems is fundamental for our efforts. How the different elements of a forest link to each other and form interactions that lead to forest dynamics is one of the main questions that drive my work. I am applying the forest model 4C, which is essentially a set hypotheses about this question, to investigate potential future climate, disturbance and forest management effects. We describe these potential futures as scenarios and then look at them through the lens of a forest model to estimate what this future could mean for the forest. Besides the technical implementation of the forest model I am involved in constructing the scenarios.

What excites you about the project?

The most interesting aspect of this project to me is that we are trying to capture the joint impacts of climate change, disturbances and management on forests simultaneously while in most studies only one or two of these dimensions are investigated. This comprehensive look is very interesting because there may be effects that are not the simple sum of these three drivers of forest dynamics. On the other hand, including these three drivers complicates many things which requires good problem solving skills.

Another very neat aspect of this project is that we are collaborating with people from four European countries. The cooperation within the group helps to learn about other perspectives on the issues we are facing. The people in the group all work on the same topics while placing slightly different foci in their work – learning from the others has been a very satisfying experience, especially because the collaboration feels like working in a group of colleagues who share the same excitement for forests.

What do you expect as major achievement of your group/ the whole project?

The main achievement I expect of this project is to get a better picture of what future forests may provide as services to future European societies, e.g. timber production and carbon sequestration. Although, we will not be able to say how the future of European forests will be exactly, we could increase our knowledge of what forests could provide if the future follows a certain pathway and what is very unlikely to achieve in a certain future. I hope that the outcome can complement the set of evidence about climate change effects in Europe and feed into policy addressing European challenges related to the climate crisis.

Featured image: forest disturbances caused by game browsing in Germany (photo: Maria Schlossmacher)

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