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Forests and climate change

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With climate change, some tree species will gain and others will lose. In the Swiss Plateau, for example, the spruce will be replaced in the long term by drought-resistant species.

 

During the past 30 years, temperatures in the Alpine region have increased almost twice as much as the global mean. Climate models suggest that towards the end of the 21st century, the frequency and intensity of summer drought periods in Switzerland will be greater and they will persist for longer periods of time. Strong precipitation is likely to be more intense, but low winter temperatures will be less frequent.

Climate change influences the success of tree species. The composition of tree species, in turn, influences timber yields and revenues, the forest's protective efficacy against natural hazards, and the diversity of other organisms as well as the landscape. When all these factors are taken into consideration, there is a considerable risk that the forest will be less likely to provide such benefits under the influence of climate change.

This presents major challenges to foresters and forest owners. In order to be able to adapt their forest management practices to future conditions, we have compiled the basic principles and some recommendations for them in the Forest and Climate Change research programme, published in the scientific synthesis. For example, in forest management, the risks can be distributed by increasing the variety of tree species and structures; or the risk of crop failure (e.g. due to storms or pests) can be reduced by felling the trees earlier.

Drought stress in Valais

As it is drier and warmer in Valais than in most other parts of Switzerland, the canton is particularly well suited for exploring the connecti

on between forest and climate. For example, in the Pfynwald near Leuk (Valais), we have been irrigating entire forest areas in order to ascertain how the trees react to natural drought. Or we investigate the impact of climate change-influenced disturbances, such as forest fires, on forests and their capacity to function as protection forests.

 

Joint Research

The highly complex effects of climate change on trees and forests can best be explored in interdisciplinary cooperation. Working in partnership with institutions such as ETH Zurich, the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, we have established the umbrella organisation, "Swiss Forest Lab", in which the scientists will use their infrastructure and expertise for joint research projects.

 

Topics

Forest and drought

How will Swiss forests cope with increasing drought? The WSL researches the processes related to this in the field and laboratory.

Research programme Forests and Climate Change

The research programme provides forest professionals with knowledge for decision-making in order to limit the effects of climate change on the forest.

Dossier Climate Change

We do research on climate change effects on forests and water resources, on the potential of renewable resources and on human adaptation strategies.

The Forest Line

We research the altitudes at which trees can grow in the Alps and other mountain ranges. How will this change as a result of climate change?

 

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