What we (don’t) know about climate change in European forests: bridging from science to practice
The knowledge about potential climate change impacts on forests is continuously expanding. This presentation summarizes the scientific knowledge on climate change impacts on European forests. Changes in forest growth, increased drought induced mortality and shifting species distributions have already been observed. However, simulation studies projecting future climate change impacts have often resulted in conflicting evidence. Despite a significant body of research, a knowledge and communication gap exists between scientists and non-scientists as to how climate change impact scenarios can be interpreted and what they imply for European forests. It is still challenging to advise forest decision makers on how best to plan for climate change as many uncertainties and unknowns remain and it is difficult to communicate these to practitioners and other decision makers while retaining emphasis on the importance of planning for adaptation.
Recent evidence on climate change and both observed and projected impacts on European forests are reviewed and the associated uncertainties are discussed. Current impact assessments with simulation models contain several simplifications, which explain the discrepancy between results of many simulation studies and the rapidly increasing body of evidence about already observed changes in forest productivity and species distribution. Individual climate change impact studies should not be uncritically used for decision-making without reflection on possible shortcomings in system understanding, model accuracy and other assumptions made. It is important for decision makers in forest management to realise that they have to take long lasting management decisions while uncertainty about climate change impacts are still large. Communicating scientific understanding to practice requires explaining uncertainties in simple terms without diluting the overall message. Adaptive forest management to respond to the challenges of climate change depends on improved systems understanding. This needs to be translated into expert knowledge to offer science-based decision support to local practitioners.