Climate change and European forests: What do we know, what are the uncertainties, and what are the implications for forest management?

Lindner, M.; Fitzgerald, J.B.; Zimmermann, N.E.; Reyer, C.; Delzon, S.; Maaten, E. van der; Schelhaas, M.; Lasch, P.; Eggers, J.; Maaten-Theunissen, M. van der; Suckow, F.; Psomas, A.; Pouler, B.; Hanewinkel, M.


The knowledge about potential climate change impacts on forests is continuously expanding and some changes in growth, drought induced mortality and species distribution have been observed. However despite a significant body of research, a knowledge and communication gap exists between scientists and non-scientists as to how climate change impact scenarios can be interpreted and what they imply for European forests. It is still challenging to advise forest decision makers on how best to plan for climate change as many uncertainties and unknowns remain and it is difficult to communicate these to practitioners and other decision makers while retaining emphasis on the importance of planning for adaptation. In this paper, recent developments in climate change observations and projections, observed and projected impacts on European forests and the associated uncertainties are reviewed and synthesised with a view to understanding the implications for forest management. Current impact assessments with simulation models contain several simplifications, which explain the discrepancy between results of many simulation studies and the rapidly increasing body of evidence about already observed changes in forest productivity and species distribution. In simulation models uncertainties tend to cascade onto one another; from estimating what future societies will be like and general circulation models (GCMs) at the global level, down to forest models and forest management at the local level. Individual climate change impact studies should not be uncritically used for decision-making without reflection on possible shortcomings in system understanding, model accuracy and other assumptions made. It is important for decision makers in forest management to realise that they have to take long-lasting management decisions while uncertainty about climate change impacts are still large. We discuss how to communicate about uncertainty - which is imperative for decision making - without diluting the overall message. Considering the range of possible trends and uncertainties in adaptive forest management requires expert knowledge and enhanced efforts for providing science-based decision support.