Disturbances from wind, bark beetles and wildfires have increased in Europe’s forests throughout the twentieth century1. Climatic changes were identified as a key driver behind this increase2, yet how the expected continuation of climate change will affect Europe’s forest disturbance regime remains unresolved. Increasing disturbances could strongly impact the forest carbon budget3,4, and are suggested to contribute to the recently observed carbon sink saturation in Europe’s forests5. Here we show that forest disturbance damage in Europe has continued to increase in the first decade of the twenty-first century. On the basis of an ensemble of climate change scenarios we find that damage from wind, bark beetles and forest fires is likely to increase further in coming decades, and estimate the rate of increase to be +0.91 × 106 m3 of timber per year until 2030. We show that this intensification can offset the effect of management strategies aiming to increase the forest carbon sink, and calculate the disturbance-related reduction of the carbon storage potential in Europe’s forests to be 503.4 Tg C in 2021–2030. Our results highlight the considerable carbon cycle feedbacks of changing disturbance regimes, and underline that future forest policy and management will require a stronger focus on disturbance risk and resilience.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Schelhaas, M-J., Nabuurs, G. & Schuck, A. Natural disturbances in the European forests in the 19th and 20th centuries. Glob. Change Biol. 9, 1620–1633 (2003).
Seidl, R., Schelhaas, M-J. & Lexer, M. J. Unraveling the drivers of intensifying forest disturbance regimes in Europe. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 2842–2852 (2011).
Kurz, W. A. et al. Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change. Nature 452, 987–990 (2008).
Le Page, Y. et al. Sensitivity of climate mitigation strategies to natural disturbances. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 015018 (2013).
Nabuurs, G-J. et al. First signs of carbon sink saturation in European forest biomass. Nature Clim. Change 3, 792–796 (2013).
Franklin, J. F. et al. Disturbances and structural development of natural forest ecosystems with silvicultural implications, using Douglas-fir forests as an example. Forest Ecol. Manag. 155, 399–423 (2002).
Gutschick, V. P. & BassiriRad, H. Extreme events as shaping physiology, ecology, and evolution of plants: Toward a unified definition and evaluation of their consequences. New Phytol. 160, 21–42 (2003).
Westerling, A. L., Hidalgo, H. G., Cayan, D. R. & Swetnam, T. W. Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity. Science 313, 940–943 (2006).
Soja, A. J. et al. Climate-induced boreal forest change: Predictions versus current observations. Glob. Planet. Change 56, 274–296 (2007).
Raffa, K. et al. Cross-scale drivers of natural disturbances prone to anthropogenic amplification: The dynamics of bark beetle eruptions. Bioscience 58, 501–518 (2008).
Lausch, A., Heurich, M. & Fahse, L. Spatio-temporal infestation patterns of Ips typographus (L.) in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany. Ecol. Indic. 31, 73–81 (2013).
Seidl, R., Schelhaas, M-J., Lindner, M. & Lexer, M. J. Modelling bark beetle disturbances in a large scale forest scenario model to assess climate change impacts and evaluate adaptive management strategies. Reg. Environ. Change 9, 101–119 (2009).
Westerling, A. L., Turner, M. G., Smithwick, E. A. H., Romme, W. H. & Ryan, M. G. Continued warming could transform Greater Yellowstone fire regimes by mid-21st century. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 13165–13170 (2011).
Lindner, M. et al. Climate change impacts, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability of European forest ecosystems. Forest Ecol. Manag. 259, 698–709 (2010).
Stephens, S. L. et al. Managing forests and fire in changing climates. Science 342, 41–42 (2013).
Körner, C. Slow in, rapid out–carbon flux studies and Kyoto targets. Science 300, 1242–1243 (2003).
UNECE, & FAO, The European Forest Sector Outlook Study II 2010–2030 107 (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2011).
Weng, E. et al. Ecosystem carbon storage capacity as affected by disturbance regimes: A general theoretical model. J. Geophys. Res. 117, G03014 (2012).
Lindroth, A. et al. Storms can cause Europe-wide reduction in forest carbon sink. Glob. Change Biol. 15, 346–355 (2009).
Seidl, R., Rammer, W., Jäger, D. & Lexer, M. J. Impact of bark beetle (Ips typographus L.) disturbance on timber production and carbon sequestration in different management strategies under climate change. Forest Ecol. Manag. 256, 209–220 (2008).
Vilén, T. & Fernandes, P. M. Forest fires in Mediterranean countries: CO2 emissions and mitigation possibilities through prescribed burning. Environ. Manag. 48, 558–567 (2011).
Metsaranta, J. M., Dymond, C. C., Kurz, W. A. & Spittlehouse, D. L. Uncertainty of 21st century growing stocks and GHG balance of forests in British Columbia, Canada resulting from potential climate change impacts on ecosystem processes. Forest Ecol. Manag. 262, 827–837 (2011).
Seidl, R. et al. Modelling natural disturbances in forest ecosystems: A review. Ecol. Model. 222, 903–924 (2011).
Temperli, C., Bugmann, H. & Elkin, C. Cross-scale interactions among bark beetles, climate change, and wind disturbances: A landscape modeling approach. Ecol. Monogr. 83, 383–402 (2013).
Gardiner, B. et al. Destructive Storms in European Forests: Past and Forthcoming Impacts 138 (EFIATLANTIC, European Forest Institute, 2010).
Hanewinkel, M., Cullmann, D. A., Schelhaas, M-J., Nabuurs, G-J. & Zimmermann, N. E. Climate change may cause severe loss in the economic value of European forest land. Nature Clim. Change 3, 203–207 (2013).
Mikkelson, K. M., Dickenson, E. R. V., Maxwell, R. M., McCray, J. E. & Sharp, J. O. Water-quality impacts from climate-induced forest die-off. Nature Clim. Change 3, 218–222 (2013).
Verkerk, P. J., Anttila, P., Eggers, J., Lindner, M. & Asikainen, A. The realisable potential supply of woody biomass from forests in the European Union. Forest Ecol. Manag. 261, 2007–2015 (2011).
Database on Forest Disturbances in Europe (DFDE) (European Forest Institute, 2013); http://www.efi.int/databases/dfde
Reyer, C. et al. Projections of regional changes in forest net primary productivity for different tree species in Europe driven by climate change and carbon dioxide. Ann. Forest Sci. 71, 211–225 (2014).
R.S. and W.R. acknowledge financial support from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project no.: P25503-B16. R.S. has received further support from a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (grant agreement no. PCIG12-GA-2012-334104) and the collaborative project FORMIT (grant agreement no. 311970), both funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration. M-J.S. acknowledges financial support from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme projects MOTIVE (grant agreement no. 226544) and GHG-Europe (grant agreement no. 244122), and has received further support from the strategic research program KBIV ‘Sustainable spatial development of ecosystems, landscapes, seas and regions’, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. P.J.V. acknowledges support from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme collaborative projects Volante (grant agreement no. 265104) and GHG-Europe (grant agreement no. 244122). We are grateful to C. Reyer and P. Lasch for providing data on climate scenarios and growth responses to the study. We furthermore acknowledge G. Hengeveld for support in data processing, and G-J. Nabuurs for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Seidl, R., Schelhaas, MJ., Rammer, W. et al. Increasing forest disturbances in Europe and their impact on carbon storage. Nature Clim Change 4, 806–810 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2318
Nature Sustainability (2021)
Private Forest Owner Characteristics Affect European Spruce Bark Beetle Management under an Extreme Weather Event and Host Tree Density
Forest Ecology and Management (2021)
Temporal changes in Mediterranean forest ecosystem services are driven by stand development, rather than by climate-related disturbances
Forest Ecology and Management (2021)
European Journal of Forest Research (2021)