A diversity of trees in forests are better at standing up to storms, a new study has revealed.
With storms like Isha and Jocelyn that battered the UK this week becoming more common in the future, scientists have studied what makes a forest resilient.
The team from the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, found that European forests with a greater diversity of tree species, dominated by slow growing species, stand up best to strong winds.
They also discovered that the positive effect of tree diversity on storm resistance was more pronounced under extreme climatic conditions, such as the hot-dry conditions of the Mediterranean region and the cold-wet conditions of northern Scandinavia.
To get their results they created a model to simulate the dynamics of hundreds of forests after a storm using data from 91,528 real-life forest plots in Europe.
Dr. Julien Barrere said: “Our simulated forests varied in both climate conditions, ranging from Mediterranean to Boreal, and in composition, i.e. in tree species diversity and identity.
“This allowed us to quantify the relationship between forest composition and resilience to storm disturbance, and how this relationship changes along the European climatic gradient.”
They focused on Europe as in recent decades it has experienced more frequent and severe windstorms that put forests and the ecosystem services they provide, such as habitat, carbon storage and timber, at risk.
Results of the test, published in the journal Functional Ecology, showed that species-rich forests had higher recovery and resilience to storm disturbance, while functional diversity improved resistance and recovery.
They also found that fast growing species such as pine were very vulnerable to storm damage whereas slow growing trees like oak stood strong.
Dr. Barrere added: “An important takeaway from our study is that monocultures of fast-growing species such as pine, although valuable from an economic point of view, are more susceptible to storm damage.
“In a context of increasing storm losses across the continent, our study therefore argues for forest management practices that promote diversity and slow growing tree species such as oak.”
The team hope that their findings will help to make forests more resilient in the future.
However, they caution that field work is still required to support these findings.
Dr. Barrere concluded: “Although modelling studies like ours are essential for drawing conclusions about forest dynamics due to the long timescales in nature, the results must be interpreted with a clear understanding of the model hypotheses and complemented by field studies.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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