Forestry in a changing climate: extreme weather increases investment risk

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Storms, drought and pest infestation cause forest damage in the Harz Mountains P
Storms, drought and pest infestation cause forest damage in the Harz Mountains Photo: Carola Paul

Research team investigates adaptation strategies from a forestry perspective


Climate change is altering our forests. Increased storms and drought have significant consequences for ecosystems and their sustainable use. Forests are important for wood production, carbon storage and local recreation, for example. Studies show that greater biodiversity among trees ensures greater stability in the face of long-term climate change. This has ecological and economic benefits. An interdisciplinary research team from the University of Göttingen, the Northwest German Forest Research Institute and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has now investigated whether an increase in tree species diversity is also promising as an adaptation strategy under short-term extreme weather events from a forestry perspective. The results reveal an investment risk: because planting and maintaining diverse forests is more expensive, the costs of reforestation are often no longer covered by the subsequent use of the wood if disturbances end the growth of the trees prematurely. The results have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers used a model to investigate which tree species mix optimally balances economic risks and yields for a large forestry operation under certain conditions. They simulated the influence of small-scale disturbances in individual forest stands as well as large-scale disturbances such as those caused by extreme weather events. Assuming that economic returns are sought on the one hand and economic risks are to be limited on the other, a trend towards homogenization of forest stands would be likely if extreme weather events increase.

-From a purely economic perspective, if there is a high probability of extreme weather events occurring, it may make sense to concentrate on low-investment tree species, i.e. those with low establishment and maintenance costs," says first author Jasper M. Fuchs from the Department of Forest Economics and Sustainable Land Use Planning at the University of Göttingen. Risk-averse forest managers would then also choose less stable tree species in favor of lower investment costs in view of the possibility of major damage in their forests. In the model calculations, this led to a reduction in tree species diversity rather than diversification under possible extreme weather scenarios.

This requires forest policy measures such as financial support programs that reduce the investment risk, as department head Carola Paul explains: "Our study indicates that planting and maintenance costs have an important leverage effect for the design of forest policy support programs in order to maintain diverse and stable forests with their diverse ecosystem services.

The study was part of the FunPotential project funded by the BiodivERsA program -Biodiversity and Climate Change- with the participation of the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Academy of Finland (Finland) and ANR (France). More information on the project can be found here: .

Original publication: Jasper M. Fuchs, Kai Husmann, Jan Schick, Matthias Albert, Jussi Lintunen, Carola Paul (2024). Severe and frequent extreme weather events undermine economic adaptation gains of tree-species diversification. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598’024 -52290-2