Abstract

Forest disturbances are sensitive to climate. However, our understanding of disturbance dynamics in response to climatic changes remains incomplete, particularly regarding large-scale patterns, interaction effects and dampening feedbacks. Here we provide a global synthesis of climate change effects on important abiotic (fire, drought, wind, snow and ice) and biotic (insects and pathogens) disturbance agents. Warmer and drier conditions particularly facilitate fire, drought and insect disturbances, while warmer and wetter conditions increase disturbances from wind and pathogens. Widespread interactions between agents are likely to amplify disturbances, while indirect climate effects such as vegetation changes can dampen long-term disturbance sensitivities to climate. Future changes in disturbance are likely to be most pronounced in coniferous forests and the boreal biome. We conclude that both ecosystems and society should be prepared for an increasingly disturbed future of forests.

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Acknowledgements

This work is the result of a working group within the European Union (EU) COST Action PROFOUND (FP1304) and the IUFRO Task Force on Climate Change and Forest Health. R.S. acknowledges funding from a START grant of the Austrian Science Fund FWF (Y 895-B25). M.K. acknowledges funding from the EU FP7 project LUC4C, grant 603542. M.Peltoniemi was funded by EU Life+ (LIFE12 ENV/FI/000409). C.P.O.R. acknowledges funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, grant no. 01LS1201A1). D.M.-B. was funded by a Marie-Curie IEF grant (EU grant 329935). J.W. was funded by the long-term research and development project RVO 67985939 (The Czech Academy of Sciences). M.S., V.T. and J.W. acknowledge support from a project of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports no. LD15158. M.Petr acknowledges funding support from Forestry Commission (UK) funded research on climate change impacts. J.H. acknowledges funding from the Foundation for Research of Natural Resources in Finland, grant no. 2015090. M.S. and V.T. acknowledge funding from the project GAČR 15-14840S “EXTEMIT - K”, no. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000433 financed by OP RDE.

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Affiliations

  1. Institute of Silviculture, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna, Peter Jordan Straße 82, 1190 Wien, Austria

    • Rupert Seidl
    • , Dominik Thom
    •  & Manfred J. Lexer
  2. Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research – Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK–IFU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Kreuzeckbahnstraße 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

    • Markus Kautz
  3. Forest Ecology, Department of Environmental Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich, Universitätstrasse 16, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland

    • Dario Martin-Benito
  4. INIA-CIFOR, Ctra. La Coruña km. 7.5, 28040 Madrid, Spain

    • Dario Martin-Benito
    •  & Paola Mairota
  5. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Management and Production of Renewable Resources, Latokartanonkaari 9, 00790 Helsinki, Finland

    • Mikko Peltoniemi
    •  & Juha Honkaniemi
  6. DISAFA, University of Torino, Largo Braccini 2, 10095 Grugliasco (TO), Italy

    • Giorgio Vacchiano
  7. Institute of Botany, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Zámek 1, CZ-252 43 Průhonice, Czech Republic

    • Jan Wild
  8. Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Kamýcká 129, CZ-165 21 Praha 6 – Suchdol, Czech Republic

    • Jan Wild
  9. Dipartimento di Agraria, University of Naples Federico II, via Università 100, 80055 Portici, Napoli, Italy

    • Davide Ascoli
  10. Forest Research, Forestry Commission, Northern Research Station, Roslin EH25 9SY, UK

    • Michal Petr
  11. Department of Forest Ecology, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Kamýcká 129, CZ-165 21 Praha 6 – Suchdol, Czech Republic

    • Volodymyr Trotsiuk
    • , Miroslav Svoboda
    •  & Thomas A. Nagel
  12. Department of Agri-Environmental and Territorial Sciences, University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, via Amendola 165/A, 70126 Bari, Italy

    • Paola Mairota
  13. Department of Forest Management and Geodesy, Technical University in Zvolen, T. G. Masaryka 24, Zvolen 96053, Slovakia

    • Marek Fabrika
  14. Department of Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Večna pot 83, Ljubljana 1000, Slovenia

    • Thomas A. Nagel
  15. Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research, PO Box 60 12 03, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany

    • Christopher P. O. Reyer

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Contributions

R.S. and C.P.O.R. initiated the research. R.S. and D.T. designed the study, with feedback from all authors during workshops in Vienna, Austria (April 2015) and Novi Sad, Serbia (November 2015). G.V., D.A., P.M., C.P.O.R. and R.S. reviewed the fire literature. D.M.-B., M.Petr and V.T. reviewed the drought literature. J.W., M.J.L., M.F. and T.N. reviewed the wind literature. D.T. and T.N. reviewed the snow and ice literature. M.K., D.T., M.J.L., M.S. and J.W. reviewed the literature on insects. M.Peltoniemi, J.H. and M.Petr reviewed the literature on pathogens. R.S. conducted the analyses. All authors contributed to writing and revising the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rupert Seidl.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3303

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