About a third of Switzerland is covered by forest, which is one of the hallmarks of our landscape and enhances our quality of life. We are studying this complex ecosystem to find appropriate ways in which people can use and protect the forest.
Forests offer protection against natural hazards such as rockfalls and avalanches, filter our drinking water and prevent soil erosion. They provide wood, store carbon, and serve as recreational spaces for people, habitats for flora and fauna, and havens of biodiversity.
Impact of climate change and natural events
Threats to the above-mentioned forest functions are mounting as a result of the worldwide upheavals in the climate system and in society: what impact do climate change, loss of biodiversity, invasive species and productivity levels in timber production have on our forests? What happens with nutrient cycles, carbon storage, the resistance of the forests to pests, and the services which are of consequence to mankind?
Timber utilisation, forest preservation and soil protection
We are exploring these issues as part of our research. Our focus is on the sustainable exploitation of forest resources, which maintains and supports the functions and adaptability of the forest. Several long-term forest monitoring projects and experimental plots, some of which we have operated for more than 100 years, provide data series documenting the condition and usage of Swiss forests. They also facilitate an understanding of how soil, water, air and climate, pollutants and disturbances, such as storms and forest fires, interact with the forest ecosystem.
A look ahead
We want to take a look at the possible future of the forests, and this requires broad-based research including long-term observations, information from annual tree-ring data which reach far into the past, laboratory and field experiments, computer modelling, and in-depth knowledge of management practices. We combine all these approaches under one roof, using state-of-the-art environmental research techniques, such as isotope analysis, for which we operate a separate isotope laboratory.
As one of the world's leading forest research institutes, we participate in numerous European and international research networks such as the Long-Term Ecosystem Research (LTER) Network in Europe. We coordinate a network of leading Swiss forest researchers from various disciplines as part of our strategic initiative SwissForestLab, so that these researchers can join forces in addressing the most important research questions.
And last but not least, as a federal institute, we also perform the task of imparting our knowledge to forestry practitioners and nature conservationists in the form of recommendations, leaflets and continuing education.