EU funds help: Forests cannot do without our help (VIDEO)
26. 3. 2021
Forests provide clean air, water and a range of raw materials. In addition, they are important carbon pools and recreational areas. However, unlike animals, trees spend their entire lives at one place. They cannot move to better sites when they are plagued by drought or attacked by pests. Gradually, they wither and die. The current climate change is exacerbating the already significant stress on forests. The SUSTREE project, supported by EU funds, addressed this topic.
"Forests without borders" was the motto of the SUSTREE project under Interreg Central Europe, emphasising the biology of forests and the evolution of forest tree species in time and space, regardless of state borders. "A number of parameters were assessed across Europe, such as the vitality of forest stands, height and thickness increment, resistance to various pests and responses to environmental changes.
Using mathematical models, these parameters were compared with current and predicted climatic data," Professor Milan Lstibůrek from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, explains the essence of the project. The output of the research is a practical computer application for foresters, which tells them which tree seedlings are optimal to use for afforestation in their Central European locality.
FORESTS HAVE BEEN HEAVILY AFFECTED BY DROUGHT AND BARKBEETLE
Central European forests have been affected by unprecedented drought, bark beetle calamity and the subsequent dying of forests. In order to be able to preserve what forests provide to us, we must actively support the adaptation of forest trees to current conditions. A very suitable way is to use alternative tree species, better adapted through evolution to what awaits them in the forest today and in the future. Equally important is the origin of the seedlings for planting future forests.
Local sources are often inappropriate and it is, therefore, necessary to use seedlings of more distant origin, genetically better adapted to the changing environment. The key to these adaptation strategies is international cooperation and knowledge exchange. For this reason, an international project of Central European countries was created with the participation of eight partner institutions. The European Union contributed significantly (85 percent) to the total budget of EUR 1.5 million. In addition to the Czech Republic, the project was joined by Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Poland and Austria. The Czech side was represented by the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences at the Czech University of Life Sciences (CULS) in Prague, specifically Associate Professor Ivana Tomášková and Professor Milan Lstibůrek.
They were responsible for data collection, processing, preparation of mathematical models and team coordination. The subject of the research was the six most important species of forest trees - Norway spruce, Scots pine, European beech, European larch, common oak and sessile oak. The Czech side focused mainly on Norway spruce. In addition, detailed maps were created of the current distribution of the forest species concerned and a database of existing plantings.
An important goal of the project is amendment of the non-uniform European rules and the integration of the results in the field of seed and planting material transfer into the legislative regulations of the EU and individual Member States. In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Agriculture is currently preparing an amendment to the decree on the management of the forest tree gene pool, specifically the possibility of cross-border transfer of forest tree reproductive material based on expert assessment using the conclusions of the SUSTREE project.
LOCAL IS NOT THE BEST
There are also critical comments on this solution. "Many conservative foresters and ecologists have been brought up in the dogma that local resources are always best adapted, and they do not sidestep a millimetre from that belief. We have encountered that a lot during the project in all countries. Fortunately, these views are already scientifically obsolete. It is no coincidence that the solution we have developed is an analogy of almost identical approaches in other parts of the world, for example in France, the Scandinavian countries, the USA, Canada or China," says Milan Lstibůrek.
According to him, the idea that nature will always help itself best, i.e. without human assistance, is completely misguided. "Such claims contradict the basic findings of evolutionary biology. For centuries, humans have fundamentally influenced the genetic constitution of forest tree species and adapted forests to their needs. Humans have also influenced climatic conditions and the quality of the environment in general. The current problem is the fact that the speed of genetic adaptation of human-altered forest tree populations does not reach the speed of change in environmental conditions,” Milan Lstibůrek adds.
As part of the SUSTREE project, experts from six Central European countries jointly researched the most common forest stands in our part of Europe. Thanks to the latest scientific methods, they have been able to observe how trees change depending on climate change and their living conditions. Our forests could be helped by tree seedlings that will adapt better to current and future conditions in forest stands.
Photo: Archive of the SUSTREE project