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Interview with Ángel Vela Laina, Alto Tajo Nature Park

As the Director of Alto Tajo Nature Park, in the autonomous community of Castilla-la-Mancha, Ángel Vela Laina has long experience in the planning and management of protected areas. He participates in the “conservation and mature forests working group” of EUROPARC Spain, is passioned about wildlife and about ornithology in particular.

In this interview, he introduces some of the needed measures to improve the adaptation of Spanish forests to climate change and shares some of the actions that are being planned and implemented in the Alto Tajo Nature Park.

FUNGOBE: How is climate change affecting forests and which type of actions can we implement to improve adaptation?

According to the latest studies, and with my personal experience and observation, climate change basically influences thermic floors, i.e. forest vegetation raises its altitudinal limit and invades mountain pasture lands. On one hand, forests are rising in altitude, but on the other hand, lowland areas are also rising in altitude, fleeing from increasing aridity and climatic unpredictability.

How do we see this in the field? Forests that are in a slightly more extreme situations in terms of their ecological requirements are more vulnerable to a higher incidence of physiological decline and pests, a reduction in growth, vigour and in seed production. Therefore, in the medium and long term, this situation can condition their stability and, in some cases, lead to their collapse.

FUNGOBE: In this scenario, which adaptation measures can be tested and explored?

In the climate emergency context that we are experiencing, we have to rely on science but we also have to complement our strategic actions with a certain intuition and knowledge on how species and forest stands function.

Evidence seems to indicate that stands that contain mature stages, which are species diverse and have a structural diversity of ages and diameters, are going to be more resilient and, therefore, will have a better chance of surviving to climate change effects.

Forests have adapted to change, when it has been gradual, but now the change is much more accelerated and we have to provide these ecosystems with the maximum tools to be able to resist climate extreme events and changes.

FUNGOBE: There are two main packages of measures: management tools that target biological diversity and also non-intervention measures. Is this the case?

Yes, indeed, there are two main packages of measures. One is dedicated to planning, which has to do with the creation of small or large reserves of mature stage representations, scattered and with a forest matrix that gives them connectivity. This does not mean that it is intended – or that the optimum would be – that the entire forest should be mature, but that it should contain “corners of meturity”, spaces where ecosystemic processes, and the species that drive them, can have a refuge to exist.

On the other hand, both in terms of planning and day-to-day management, everything that involves diversifying the stands – both in terms of species and structure – which could surround the matrix of “mature corners” I mentioned earlier, would be an ideal complement to provide maximum resilience to forest stands.

FUNGOBE: What measures are you implementing in the Alto Tajo Nature Park?

We are trying to work on more threatened habitats, such as the laricio pine forest (Pinus nigra), which in my opinion has a good distribution and geographical representation. Altought, forest stands with mature stages and older representations of this species are lacking, and so it is also their role of being a refuge for ecological processes linked to maturity.

What is being attempted, according to the guidelines determined by the park management body, is that laricio pine trees larger than 40 centimetres should not be marked for felling, in order to try to create a pool of trees as old as possible and compensate for the youthfulness of the predominant stands.