Genetically improving trees and making the transition to mixed-species forests could be key measures for developing climate-intelligent forestry to help mitigate global warming. This is according to research by the University of Lleida (UdL), the Forest Science and Technology Centre of Catalonia (CTFC), Agrotecnio and the European Forest Institute (EFI), which has been published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.
After analysing forest management in Spain over the last 150 years, the research team points out that some of the aspects analysed, such as the types of regeneration cuttings, the applied lathes or the diversity of tree species, should be adapted in order to increase the multifunctionality of forests and the services they provide, such as carbon fixation or water supply.
The authors of the research have documented and analysed the evolution of forest management practices since the 1940s, when both the reforestation of wooded areas and afforestation, i.e. the conversion of abandoned agricultural land into wooded areas, intensified. They have used 11 indicators, such as the type of regeneration, the application of pesticides and chemical herbicides, fertilisation and the removal of wood.
The results show that some decisions have evolved towards the promotion of multifunctionality, such as soil cultivation, while others have moved towards a more intensive type of forestry to maximise production. In this sense, “the study shows that forests in the Atlantic region are managed in a way that is more focused on production, as opposed to the Mediterranean region, which is more focused on protection”, says lead author Enric Vadell.
“Understanding how forests have been and are being managed is essential to know how current forest landscapes have been configured and how management could be improved to better meet all the needs of society in the face of global change”, stresses Sergio de Miguel, professor of forest science at the UdL and researcher at the CTFC – Agrotecnio Joint Research Unit.
Jesús Pemán, professor of Forestry at the University of Lleida, says that the results of the study “are a tool for evaluating practices that lead to climate-smart management to adapt forests to rising temperatures”. In this sense, the research proposes to focus genetic improvement beyond the most productive tree species, on those capable of adapting to the increasingly arid conditions of the Mediterranean region. It also proposes to consider species or origins that may thrive better in future climatic conditions.
For his part, EFI investigator Pieter Johannes Verkerk says that the results “allow scientists to objectively compare our management with that of other European countries”. Meanwhile, the JRU CTFC-Agrotecnio investigator, Maitane Erdozain, underlines that “being able to describe and discuss the trends will allow us to anticipate where forest management is heading as well as which management decisions should be reconsidered in accordance with national forest policy objectives”.