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Climate change and forest genetic diversity: implications for sustainable forest management in Europe

12 / 12 / 2007, Eldis Biodiversity

Climate change is increasingly recognised as one of the most important challenges faced globally by ecosystems and societies alike. Climate change will alter the environmental conditions to which forest trees in Europe are adapted and expose them to new pests and diseases. This document presents papers from a workshop on climate change and forest genetic diversity. This set of papers shows how climate change will create additional challenges for forest management, with consequent impacts on the economic and social benefits that societies and individuals derive from the forests, and on the biological diversity in forest ecosystems. The report includes as set of technical presentation and workshops which included a discussion of:

the regional policy context
climate change and forest trees in Europe
the role of forest genetic diversity in forest management under climate change
silvicultural practices and forest genetic diversity
forest reproductive materials
regional and national strategies for forest genetic diversity and climate change

Highlights from the papers and workshops include:

there is some evidence, based on long-term empirical data, that climate change-induced evolution is already taking place and that trees have started to adapt to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, at both individual and population levels
most climate models predict a dramatic shift in the range of forest trees, but they assume that the climatic envelopes of the species will not change; this assumption is unlikely to be valid as the climatic envelopes will probably change due to evolutionary processes
a cautious transfer of forest reproductive material has a role in facilitating migration of tree species and increasing the intensity of selection
a diversification of adaptation strategies leaves more options to cope with uncertain future climatic conditions
results from field trials show a remarkable range of adaptability in forest trees even to dramatic changes in thermal and moisture conditions
forest owners and policymakers should pursue flexible strategies and decisions on forest genetic diversity

The report concludes that climate change may have substantial impacts on the European forest sector as well as conservation of forest biodiversity. The genetic diversity of forest trees plays a key role in maintaining the resilience of forests to the threats and in taking advantage of the opportunities. The wise use of this genetic diversity also provides flexibility with respect to forest management and adaptation strategies for climate change. The papers include a number of recommendations for further action.

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