Mar 31, 2020

Increasing canopy mortality challenges the future of Europe's forests

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Eva E DeinumPeter D Keightley


Pulses of tree mortality have been reported for many ecosystems across the globe. Yet, large-scale trends in tree mortality remain poorly quantified. Manually analyzing more than 680,000 satellite image chips at 19,896 plot locations, we here show that forest canopy mortality in Europe has continuously increased since 1985 (+1.5 {+/-} 0.28 % yr-1), with the highest canopy mortality rate of the past 34 years observed in 2018 (1.14 {+/-} 0.16 %). Using simulation modeling we further demonstrate that a continued increase in canopy mortality will largely alter forest demography, with the median forest age falling below 30 years in nearly half of Europe's countries by 2050. These demographic changes will have substantial cascading effects on the regeneration, biodiversity, and carbon storage. The current trend of increasing canopy mortality reported herein thus challenges the future of Europe's forests, and should be a key priority of forest policy and management.

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