Forest maturity and resilience

Most of Europe’s forests, especially the Mediterranean forests, are the result of human use. For centuries, they have been harvested for firewood and timber and have been a source of food and shelter for livestock. In recent decades, most of these uses have been abruptly abandoned, and a large part of the new forest areas is growing on former farmland. In addition, more than five million hectares have been afforested since the beginning of the 20th century.

Most of these new forests are young, very homogeneous in structure, with low age diversity, small or medium size trees, and poor in species, often occupying large continuous extensions with hardly any clearings or discontinuities. This structure makes them very vulnerable to climate change, as well as to disturbances such as fire, drought or pests, which may become more frequent and intense.

Old growth forests or even stands are very rare in Europe, and are closely linked to high biodiversity values. The LIFE RedBosques project developed a protocol for the identification and characterisation of mature stands, which is completing the Reference Stand Network. The project identified the main attributes of maturity that are associated with a high diversity of threatened species.

The attributes linked to forest maturity have proven to be good indicators of valuable and threatened biodiversity, and therefore mature stands can be used as a reference for ecological restoration aimed at the conservation of this maturity-associated biodiversity.

In RedBosques_Clima we complete the network to improve its representativeness, and use these more natural stands as reference scenarios for climate change adaptation.