Adapting Scotland's forests to climate change using an action expiration chart

New decision-making tool helps ecosystem services to adapt to the potential impact of climate change on Scottish forests

In a paper published in Environmental Research Letters Michal Petr and colleagues investigate the impacts of future climate change on forest ecosystem services in Scotland and describe a new approach to supporting adaptation decisions in forestry.

To sustain forests and their benefits in the future, forest managers and policy makers need to know what impacts to expect from climate change and when they might occur.

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This research first investigated the impacts of drought on three core forest ecosystem services – namely forest production, tree growth, and sequestered carbon. The impacts were analysed for two main conifer species – Sitka spruce and Scots pine; and one broadleaf – pedunculate oak. The more general impacts of climate change on tourism potential across forested areas in Scotland were also examined.

Secondly, the assessed climate impacts on the multiple ecosystem services studied were incorporated into an “action expiration chart”. This new approach helps to define the environmental limits for relevant forest management actions, such as keeping spruce forests. In addition, it can help users to assess the viability of forest management actions into the future under climate change.

The results for Scotland show that drought would increase long-term negative impact on the traditional forest services studied. If only tree growth is considered the results predict a large reduction in growth for Sitka spruce, the main timber species in Scotland. On the other hand, climate change is likely to have a positive impact on tourism potential by representing favourable conditions for outdoor recreation as there is likely to be an increased frequency in the number of good days in the summer months.

The expiration chart that the researchers developed shows when and where forest management actions will reach their environmental limits.  The most vulnerable actions occur in the lowlands, mainly for Scots pine and Sitka spruce. In addition, the chart indicates to forest managers and policy makers how much time remains before tree species stop providing the required amount of ecosystem services enabling them to understand when and where they can expect a reduction of key forest ecosystem services and therefore decide on appropriate action.

Petr, M., Boerboom, L. G. J., Ray, D., van der Veen, A. (2015) Adapting Scotland's forests to climate change using an action expiration chart Environmental Research Letters, 10 105005