Optimizing the management and sustainable
use of forest genetic resources in Europe

Home / News / Science needs management data to help forest managers adapt to climate change

Science needs management data to help forest managers adapt to climate change

The Boréon Pinus cembra / Larix decidua mixed forest in the southern French Alps. Credit: B.Fady/INRA

Open access data on forest management activities could bridge the gap between research and management at a relatively low cost. Data from past management would help to ensure that we can manage forests more sustainably in the future.

At the moment, climate-change science lacks natural habitat management data that would enable researchers to test, improve and validate their models and recommendations. This is a major drawback, which leads to skepticism from managers, policy makers and the public. If the scientific community had access to data from natural habitat management, particularly forest management, these data would help to build better models, leading to better recommendations.

The activities of forest management, such as selection of species and seed sources, plantation establishment and thinning, influence the dynamics of forest ecosystems at multiple scales. Managers regularly monitor these actions and their outcomes, using standardized procedures and protocols. Repeated thousands of times over different climates and habitats, these outcomes constitute massive amounts of data that, after suitable statistical analysis, could have far-reaching, general value. For example, the repeated failure or success of particular species, populations or genotypes in reforestation programmes across entire continents would offer precious insights into how climate affects species adaptation processes.

What makes forest management records particularly valuable is their history. Lack of funding means that standard research programmes these days are typically restricted in scope and duration, typically 3 to 5 years. By contrast, forest managers in Japan, Europe and North-America have kept track of many of their activities over very long periods of time, decades and even back to the 19th century in some cases.

The management data exist, and may be privately or publicly owned. Getting access is the real challenge. Another challenge is that many management agencies stopped archiving data when storage moved from paper to computers. Publicly-owned data, at least, should be available to the scientific community. This implies that public management agencies should be required to make their data available as part of their mandate. Of course a push towards open access would require strong institutional support; we believe such a push would be well received in an era of growing public and political interest in open data and open science.

Right now, countries in Europe and around the world are planning new research infrastructures for the future and asking for nature-based solutions for sustainable development. At this time, forest managers should continue to collect data and make it available. In addition, new and existing public research infrastructure should be mandated to collect and archive data and make it openly accessible. Our ability to develop management strategies in response to climate change, including moving populations to new areas and mixing up populations to create adaptable forests, would greatly benefit from access to and analysis of forest management data.


Based on the article:

Bruno Fady, Thomas Geburek and Ivan Scotti. 2019. Science needs management data for a better prediction of climate change effects on socio-ecosystems. Annals of Forest Science.

Download the pre-print version

Access the article (non-open access)