European forests - ecosystem conditions and sustainable use


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Despite political commitment, Europe is struggling to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Forests, as the hosts of much of the biological diversity in Europe, are vital to this debate. Any initiative designed to halt the biodiversity loss in Europe must take forests into account. Forests and biodiversity: are we doing better? Forests today cover 33 % of the land area of the countries of the EEA region corresponding to 185 million hectares (ha). Around 25 % of this total is excluded from wood harvesting, mainly because of their special importance for biodiversity. The EEA member and associated countries have reported an almost 40 % increase in the protected forest areas from 2000 to 2005.

Over the past decades, both the total forest area and the standing volumes have increased. More forests are now allowed to grow into older development stages, which have positive effects on forest biological diversity. Afforestation programmes as well as decreasing grazing pressure lead to large‑scale conversion of mainly former agricultural land.

Nevertheless, afforestation may also threaten existing biodiversity values in some localities, such as peatland when it is combined with draining. Animals and trees are both under threat So far, Europe's efforts in halting biodiversity loss in forests has had mixed results. According to IUCN, 11 mammal species depending on forest in some stage of their life cycle should be considered as threatened, including the 'critically endangered' Bavarian vole, Microtus bavaricus and Iberian lynx, Lynx pardinus. In the case of forest birds, common populations show a decline in north and south Europe, while they are largely stable in the West and East.

Managed forests in Europe are increasingly becoming more diverse, often with a mixture of coniferous and broadleaved tree species. On the other hand, concerns are raised over the genetic diversity of the commercially important trees, especially in connection with the widespread transfer of tree genetic material between countries and regions.

The rate of introduction in recent decades of really problematic alien species known as 'worst invasives' has been less dramatic in forest ecosystems than in other ecosystems. Although European forestry is largely based on native tree species, deliberately introduced tree species are important in some countries. Countries classify only a minor part of the area covered by introduced forest tree species as occupied by invasive trees. One of the countries reporting substantial areas occupied by invasive tree species is Italy.

Climate change will affect biological diversity

Climate change will add to increased abiotic and biotic disturbances, including drought, salinification, increased spring and autumn frost risk, and insect and pathogen damage. The changes will also effect the biology, phenology, growth and distribution of species and the species composition of forests in Europe. Changes in the frequency and degree of extreme climatic events (such as droughts and floods) may have a greater effect on forest ecosystems than the changes in the projected average climate. The effects of climate change have to be approached through adaptation measures such
as ensuring connectivity to facilitate migration of species.

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