Editorial Feature

The Benefits of Climate-Smart Ecosystem Monitoring in Forests

Rapid climate change is occurring due to the unsustainable conduct of various sectors, such as forestry, energy, industry, transportation, agriculture, and construction. Climate-smart forestry is a type of forestry that involves monitoring forest functions and anticipating disturbances. This helps foresters devise suitable actions that could prevent any negative effect on the provision of ecosystem services and forest productivity.

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Ecosystems are rapidly changing in response to climate change. The changes in the natural ecosystems have endangered global biodiversity substantially. It is not easy to measure abrupt changes in ecological systems as they are unpredictable. However, once the change occurs, it persists for a long time. It is important to monitor ecological changes at an early stage and develop strategies to protect and maintain them.

Effect of Climate Change on Forestry

Forests are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The forest ecosystem can absorb and store one-tenth of the global carbon emission into its biomass, soil, and products. This absorption capacity is severely hampered if forests are improperly managed or overused. Forests via sustainable forest management systems could also produce wood fuel that can serve as an alternative to fossil fuel.

Scientists have highlighted that rapid climate changes have significantly impacted forest ecosystems. As an example, droughts and warming-induced shifts in species distribution have led to an increase in tree mortality. Climate change has also played an important role in increasing environmental pollution, habitat fragmentation, frequency of forest fires, nitrogen deposition, and unpredictable pest outbreaks. In other words, climate change has altered the growth trajectories of the forest by decreasing its resistance capacity. 

It is imperative to understand how climate change is influenced by human activities, various ecosystem processes, such as forest aging and natural disturbances, and the ability of the forest to sequester and store carbon over time in varied geographical regions. In this context, scientists have emphasized the importance of developing and practicing an adaptable management framework of climate-smart forestry (CSF).

A Brief Overview of CSF

The concept of CSF was first developed by the European Union Co-Operation in Science and Technology (COST) Action in 2016. Initially, by focusing on European mountain forests only, scientists tried to select criteria and indicators for CSF.

Over time, the function of CSF changed and now it includes the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental). Currently, CSF has been focusing on mitigating the impact of climate change on forests, the adaptation of forests to climate change, and the economic benefits from forestry. 

The concept of CSF has been developed experimentally. For instance, the understanding of carbon dynamics associated with forestry was developed based on studies conducted in Austrian forests. CSF measures vary from one country to another due to different circumstances related to the socioecological and technological frameworks, climate change impacts, and cultural differences. 

CSF has rapidly become an important tool for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM), whose main goal is to respond to the threats of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasized that forests are crucial in mitigating the impacts of climate change. SMF focuses on improving the withstanding power of the forest to environmental disturbance and minimizing the deviation from natural eco-structure. It also fosters wood as a main carbon storage unit. Put simply, the main function of CSF is the identification of the adaptation processes of trees, woods, and forests to climate change, and using them to mitigate climate change.

Flexible silviculture approaches, such as reforestation, conservation, and management, have been an integral part of the development of CSF structure and function. Promoting a heterogeneous structure of forests, i.e., cultivating mixed-species in a forest landscape, improves forest resistance and increases its productivity.

Indicators Used to Assess Climate Smart Forestry

An appropriate selection and development of new indicators require a multidisciplinary outlook, such that it includes all objectives of SFM related to climate change.

Recent advances in the concept of CSF have led to the development of tools and strategies to measure forest health, function, and productivity.

The key desirable qualities of CSF indicators are the ability to be applied to many forest ecosystems, ease of usability, and precision.

CSF monitoring systems or indicators are based on National Forest Programs or equivalents, institutional frameworks, national and international commitments (legal regulatory frameworks), financial and economic instruments, and information and communication. These indicators are based on the following six criteria: 

  1. Maintenance and appropriate increment of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles. It is involved with the classification of forest types, the age structure of the forest, and its productivity, in terms of wood and other natural resources.
  2. Protection of forest ecosystem, health, and vitality. It is associated with the measurement of the deposition and concentration of air pollutants, chemical analysis of the soil, forest land degradation, and defoliation in forests.
  3. Maintenance and enhancement in the forest products, i.e., both wood and non-wood products.
  4. Conservation and enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems. It calculates and maintains the area of protected forest to conserve the biodiversity of tree species as well as the conservation of genetic resources (in situ and ex situ genetic conservation) of the forest. Additionally, this criterion also includes the identification of new species introduced and threatened species in the forest ecosystem. The threatened tree species, based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list categories containing the total number of forest species, are also classified. Scientists also estimate the volume of deadwood lying on the forest land. The bird species associated with the forest ecosystem are also monitored.
  5. Maintenance and management of natural resources against environmental hazards in the forest. This includes the preservation of water resources and preventing soil erosion in the designated forest land.
  6. Maintenance of various socio-economic functions and conditions, for example, estimation of the number of forest holdings and classifying them according to size and ownership categories. Researchers estimate the net revenues of forest enterprises, and also calculate the total public and private investments in forestry. The contribution of forestry in the manufacturing of wood and paper is accounted for. Additionally, the total number of members associated with forestry is categorized with respect to gender, education, age, and type of work. Other important aspects include estimation of wood consumption, wood energy, trade-in wood, and recreation in wood.

Benefits of Climate-Smart Ecosystem Monitoring in Forests

Scientists have highlighted the role of forests as an important carbon sink in managing the carbon footprint. As stated above, the key focuses of CSF have been on reducing the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and decreasing the radiative imbalance at the top of the atmosphere. These have to be achieved without further elevating the air temperature or reducing the amount of precipitation.

Forests support the rural economies and generate considerable revenue for communities. The local, regional and global demand for forest products is increasing tremendously with time. Climate change has negatively affected the forest ecosystem and its services. CSF helps fulfill the increased global demand for wood in the face of climate change and other factors.

CSF not only provides important information regarding long-term forest growth that aids in adaptive forest management but also enables decision-makers to devise effective strategies to mitigate climate change while maintaining the forest ecosystem.

Climate-smart ecosystem forestry helps to sustainably increase timber production. It also enhances the adaptive power of the forest against adverse conditions and plays an important role in decreasing the carbon footprint.

The main work of forest managers is to minimize unwanted outcomes, enhance productivity, and improve environmental conditions. CSF monitors the carbon storage by analyzing the forest soil. It also prolongs the life cycle of timber products via a circular bioeconomy. Indicators of CSF positively assist forestry professionals to respond to sudden uncertainties in forest management. 

CSF addresses the various issues of people whose livelihoods are dependent on forests. It enhances the value of the forest products and increases the supply and benefit chains.

As the advanced technologies in the forest sector are implemented, rapid identification of specific conditions will be possible, particularly those at risk of increasing under climatic stress.

CSF develops both generic and specific strategies to combat the identified problems. Importantly, CSF coherently connects various activities in the forest sectors with the objectives to eradicate hunger problems in less developed areas, reduce poverty, protect natural resources, and promote nutritional and health benefits.

CSF ensures that strategies developed by policy agents are actionable by the practitioners and beneficiaries at all levels. It also involves the estimation of the functionality and effectiveness of these strategies that enhance forest growth and carbon storage.

One of the key advantages of CSF monitoring is that it aids in the reduction of the dependency on fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal, by delivering a raw material of high calorific value, i.e. wood.

References and Future Reading

Weatherall A. et al. (2022) Defining Climate-Smart Forestry. In: Tognetti R., Smith M., Panzacchi P. (eds) Climate-Smart Forestry in Mountain Regions. Managing Forest Ecosystems, vol 40. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80767-2_2

Tognetti R., Smith M.,  and Panzacchi P. (2022) An Introduction to Climate-Smart Forestry in Mountain Regions. In: Tognetti R., Smith M., Panzacchi P. (eds) Climate-Smart Forestry in Mountain Regions. Managing Forest Ecosystems, vol 40. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80767-2_1

Tognetti R.. et al. (2022) Continuous Monitoring of Tree Responses to Climate Change for Smart Forestry: A Cybernetic Web of Trees. In: Tognetti R., Smith M., Panzacchi P. (eds) Climate-Smart Forestry in Mountain Regions. Managing Forest Ecosystems, vol 40. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80767-2_10

Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook. (2022) [Online] Available at: https://www.fao.org/climate-smart-agriculture-sourcebook/production-resources/module-b3-forestry/chapter-b3-3/en/

Bowditch, E. et al. (2020) What is Climate-Smart Forestry? A definition from a multinational collaborative process focused on mountain regions of Europe. Ecosystem Services. 43. 101113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2020.101113

Malhi, Y. et al. (2020) Climate change and ecosystems: threats, opportunities and solutions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B. 375: 20190104. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.010

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Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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