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Key actions needed for resilient forests

In a world facing unprecedented challenges due to climate change, loss of biodiversity, and growing pressure on natural resources, we rely on resilient forest ecosystems (IPCC 2023) to mitigate these threats and support the well-being of our communities. On the one hand, forests are being increasingly impacted by numerous disturbances including wildfires, windstorms, droughts, and biotic threats. On the other hand, forests play a crucial role in addressing global challenges: they provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, habitat provision, and sustainable livelihoods.

In 2020, former EFI researcher Laura Nikinmaa and her colleagues investigated fostering forest resilience as a key response strategy to address uncertainty stemming from global change. But how can theoretical concepts be translated into practical actions? Based on a systematic review of 255 studies, Nikinmaa et al. (2020) pointed out that the more holistic concept of social-ecological resilience  – which involves enhancing the ability of ecosystems to provide essential services while maintaining human well-being – has not been implemented widely in the practice of forest management because of the lack of clarity in operationalising it. At the same time, policy makers are tasked with devising policies without sound knowledge of the processes that have promoted forest resilience in the recent past. As a result, both policy makers and forest managers lack a broad understanding of whether forests are going to be resilient in the future given the current global trends (Nikinmaa et al. 2020).

To address this knowledge gap, the new paper Shaping and enhancing resilient forests for a resilient society by Elena Cantarello, Jette Bredahl Jacobsen, Francisco Lloret and Marcus Lindner (2024) identifies the three key areas forest managers and policy makers should focus on to shape and enhance forest resilience in the face of environmental, social, and economic changes. The paper was developed as part of the RESONATE project aiming at increasing both the resilience of European forests and related value chains.

The authors conclude that an operational approach to resilience shaping is still lacking. They also emphasize the importance of identifying and addressing existing and future trade-offs and win-wins, while advocating for an adaptive management approach that takes local particularities into account. Based on a scientific literature review, the authors identified a set of actions related to ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, and disturbance and pressure impacts that forest managers and policy makers should attend to, to enhance the resilience of European forest systems:

  • Build synergies between the management of carbon stocks and forest goods with conservation.
  • Emphasise the role of trophic and functional biodiversity, which ensures that if one species or group. fails, others with similar functional traits can maintain ecosystem functions (Fischer et al., 2006) [1].
  • Reduce the impact of climate change-driven disturbances.
  • Promote landscape restoration under a nature-based solutions perspective.
  • Diversify the ecosystem services delivered.
Forest restoration area in Germany after bark beetle attacks. Photo by Gesche Schifferdecker.

Commissioned as part of the celebrations of EFI’s 30th anniversary, the paper provides clear, pragmatic and actionable messages for forest practice.

The RESONATE project investigates the resilience of the European forest sector and raises awareness about forest resilience. The responsibility for fostering resilient forests rests with us. Forests play a pivotal role in addressing global challenges. It’s imperative for scientists, policymakers and practitioners to collaborate closely developing tangible and measurable strategies to face challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and evolving societal needs. 

[1] “Functional diversity and trophic complexity contribute to the stability of ecosystems and other aspects of ecosystem functioning by promoting stabilising loops (Willcock et al. 2023), and providing a greater variety of habitats that can support different species but also different responses to disturbances so that, if a species/group fails, other species with similar functional traits can continue to perform the same ecosystem functions (Fischer et al. 2006).”

Cantarello, E., Jacobsen, J.B., Lloret, F. et al. Shaping and enhancing resilient forests for a resilient society. Ambio (2024).


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