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Have European forests grown older, or are they actually getting younger?

Date:
December 13, 2012
Source:
European Forest Institute
Summary:
Europe's forests have changed drastically since the 1950s when forest and land use management caught up with the effects of the World War II. The forest area increased by 30% between 1950 and 2000 as low productive agricultural lands were abandoned and many countries were carrying out active afforestation. Today, forest management is very much in the focus of attention especially in the light of increasing the use of forest biomass for energy.

Forest age class structure has changed significantly since 1950. Despite of intensive harvesting during and following World War II, the area of old forests was much higher than today. The share of older forests was lowest around 1980 and has somewhat increased since then. During the last three decades, especially the share of medium-aged forests has increased.
Credit: Image courtesy of European Forest Institute

Europe's forests have changed drastically since the 1950s when forest and land use management caught up with the effects of the World War II. The forest area increased by 30% between 1950 and 2000 as low productive agricultural lands were abandoned and many countries were carrying out active afforestation. Today, forest management is very much in the focus of attention especially in the light of increasing the use of forest biomass for energy.

One of the most common perceptions has been -- until now -- that European forests were young after the World War II due to the extensive cuttings carried out following the war. But were our forests really younger then? A group of international scientists have now compiled detailed information from historic forest inventories to reconstruct forest age class structure changes from 1950 to 2010. The results are partly surprising, because the average age of forests today is actually a few years lower than in 1950. The share of old forests declined quite strongly from 1950 to 1980, when the average age was at its minimum. Only after 1980 there has been a slight increase in the share of older forests.

The scientists used an innovative combination of inventory data and backcasting to reconstruct and map the forest age class structure from 1950 to 2010. This information is now used in the GHG-EUROPE project to improve the representation of forest management history in biogeochemical simulation models that are run to study the human influence on the greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes of European land use systems.

What do these results tell us about past forest management? The results now show that since the 1950s, our forests became younger -- but at the same time they gained in growing stock and stored more carbon. This means that the old forests that were cut in the 1950-1970s probably looked different from old forests today: they were less dense and probably less uniform in age than the typical conifer stands that replace them.

The full article "Reconstructed forest age structure in Europe 1950-2010" by Terhi Vilén and others has been published in Forest Ecology and Management.

Further information can be found on the GHG EUROPE projet (http://www.ghg-europe.eu/).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Forest Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. T. Vilén, K. Gunia, P.J. Verkerk, R. Seidl, M.-J. Schelhaas, M. Lindner, V. Bellassen. Reconstructed forest age structure in Europe 1950–2010. Forest Ecology and Management, 2012; 286: 203 DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2012.08.048

Cite This Page:

European Forest Institute. "Have European forests grown older, or are they actually getting younger?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121213084931.htm>.
European Forest Institute. (2012, December 13). Have European forests grown older, or are they actually getting younger?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121213084931.htm
European Forest Institute. "Have European forests grown older, or are they actually getting younger?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121213084931.htm (accessed September 23, 2014).

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