Background: Over the last decades, many forest simulators have been developed for the forests of individual European countries. The underlying growth models are usually based on national datasets of varying size, obtained from National Forest Inventories or from long-term research plots. Many of these models include country- and location-specific predictors, such as site quality indices that may aggregate climate, soil properties and topography effects. Consequently, it is not sensible to compare such models among countries, and it is often impossible to apply models outside the region or country they were developed for. However, there is a clear need for more generically applicable but still locally accurate and climate sensitive simulators at the European scale, which requires the development of models that are applicable across the European continent. The purpose of this study is to develop tree diameter increment models that are applicable at the European scale, but still locally accurate. We compiled and used a dataset of diameter increment observations of over 2.3 million trees from 10 National Forest Inventories in Europe and a set of 99 potential explanatory variables covering forest structure, weather, climate, soil
and nutrient deposition. Results: Diameter increment models are presented for 20 species/species groups. Selection of explanatory variables was done using a combination of forward and backward selection methods. The explained variance ranged from 10% to 53% depending on the species. Variables related to forest structure (basal area of the stand and relative size of the tree) contributed most to the explained variance, but environmental variables were important to account for spatial patterns. The type of environmental variables included differed greatly among species. Conclusions: The presented diameter increment models are the first of their kind that are applicable at the European scale. This is an important step towards the development of a new generation of forest development simulators that can be applied at the European scale, but that are sensitive to variations in growing conditions and applicable to a wider range of management systems than before. This allows European scale but detailed analyses concerning topics like CO2 sequestration, wood mobilisation, long term impact of management, etc.