The use of scenarios and models to evaluate the future of nature values and ecosystem services in Mediterranean forests

Morán-Ordóñez A., Roces-Díaz J.V., Otsu K., Ameztegui A., Coll L., Lefevre F., Retana J., Brotons L. (2019) The use of scenarios and models to evaluate the future of nature values and ecosystem services in Mediterranean forests. Regional Environmental Change. 19: 415-428.
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Doi: 10.1007/s10113-018-1408-5

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Science and society are increasingly interested in predicting the effects of global change and socio-economic development on natural systems, to ensure maintenance of both ecosystems and human well-being. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has identified the combination of ecological modelling and scenario forecasting as key to improving our understanding of those effects, by evaluating the relationships and feedbacks between direct and indirect drivers of change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Using as case study the forests of the Mediterranean basin (complex socio-ecological systems of high social and conservation value), we reviewed the literature to assess (1) what are the modelling approaches most commonly used to predict the condition and trends of biodiversity and ecosystem services under future scenarios of global change, (2) what are the drivers of change considered in future scenarios and at what scales, and (3) what are the nature and ecosystem service indicators most commonly evaluated. Our review shows that forecasting studies make relatively little use of modelling approaches accounting for actual ecological processes and feedbacks between different socio-ecological sectors; predictions are generally made on the basis of a single (mainly climate) or a few drivers of change. In general, there is a bias in the set of nature and ecosystem service indicators assessed. In particular, cultural services and human well-being are greatly underrepresented in the literature. We argue that these shortfalls hamper our capacity to make the best use of predictive tools to inform decision-making in the context of global change. © 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.

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Land-use legacies rather than climate change are driving the recent upward shift of the mountain tree line in the Pyrenees

Ameztegui A., Coll L., Brotons L., Ninot J.M. (2016) Land-use legacies rather than climate change are driving the recent upward shift of the mountain tree line in the Pyrenees. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 25: 263-273.
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Doi: 10.1111/geb.12407

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Aim: To assess the effects of climate change, past land uses and physiography on the current position of the tree line in the Catalan Pyrenees and its dynamics between 1956 and 2006. Location: More than 1000 linear kilometres of sub-alpine tree line in the Catalan Pyrenees (north-east Spain) Methods: Using aerial photographs and supervised classification, we reclassified the images into a binary raster with 'tree' and 'non-tree' values, and determined canopy cover in 1956 and 2006. We then determined the change in position of the tree line between 1956 and 2006 based on changes in forest cover. We used the distance from the position of the tree line in 1956 to the theoretical potential tree line - determined from interpretation of aerial photographs, identifying the highest old remnants of forest for homogeneous areas of the landscape in terms of bioclimatic conditions, bedrock, landform and exposure - as a surrogate of intensity of past land uses. Results: Our analyses showed that the Pyrenean tree line has moved upwards on average almost 40m (mean advance±SE: 35.3±0.5m, P

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Coupling a water balance model with forest inventory data to predict drought stress: The role of forest structural changes vs. climate changes

Caceres M.D., Martinez-Vilalta J., Coll L., Llorens P., Casals P., Poyatos R., Pausas J.G., Brotons L. (2015) Coupling a water balance model with forest inventory data to predict drought stress: The role of forest structural changes vs. climate changes. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 213: 77-90.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2015.06.012

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Mechanistic water balance models can be used to predict soil moisture dynamics and drought stress in individual forest stands. Predicting current and future levels of plant drought stress is important not only at the local scale, but also at larger, landscape to regional, scales, because these are the management scales at which adaptation and mitigation strategies are implemented. To obtain reliable predictions of soil moisture and plant drought stress over large extents, water balance models need to be complemented with detailed information about the spatial variation of vegetation and soil attributes. We designed, calibrated and validated a water balance model that produces annual estimates of drought intensity and duration for all plant cohorts in a forest stand. Taking Catalonia (NE Spain) as a case study, we coupled this model with plot records from two Spanish forest inventories in which species identity, diameter and height of plant cohorts were available. Leaf area index of each plant cohort was estimated from basal area using species-specific relationships. Vertical root distribution for each species in each forest plot was estimated by determining the distribution that maximized transpiration in the model, given average climatic conditions, soil attributes and stand density. We determined recent trends (period 1980-2010) in drought stress for the main tree species in Catalonia; where forest growth and densification occurs in many areas as a result of rural abandonment and decrease of forest management. Regional increases in drought stress were detected for most tree species, although we found high variation in stress changes among individual forest plots. Moreover, predicted trends in tree drought stress were mainly due to changes in leaf area occurred between the two forest inventories rather than to climatic trends. We conclude that forest structure needs to be explicitly considered in assessments of plant drought stress patterns and trends over large geographic areas, and that forest inventories are useful sources of data provided that reasonably good estimates of soil attributes and root distribution are available. Our approach coupled with recent improvements in forest survey technologies may allow obtaining spatially continuous and precise assessments of drought stress. Further efforts are needed to calibrate drought-related demographic processes before water balance and drought stress estimates can be fully used for the accurate prediction of drought impacts. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.

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History matters: Previous land use changes determine post-fire vegetation recovery in forested Mediterranean landscapes

Puerta-Piñero C., Espelta J.M., Sánchez-Humanes B., Rodrigo A., Coll L., Brotons L. (2012) History matters: Previous land use changes determine post-fire vegetation recovery in forested Mediterranean landscapes. Forest Ecology and Management. 279: 121-127.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2012.05.020

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Land use changes and shifts in disturbance regimes (e.g. wildfires) are recognized worldwide as two of the major drivers of the current global change in terrestrial ecosystems. We expect that, in areas with large-scale land use changes, legacies from previous land uses persist and affect current ecosystem responses to climate-associated disturbances like fire. This study analyses whether post-fire vegetation dynamics may differ according to specific historical land use histories in a Mediterranean forest landscape of about 60,000. ha that was burnt by extensive fires. For that, we assessed land use history of the whole area through the second half of the XXth century, and evaluated the post-fire regeneration success in terms of: (i) forest cover and (ii) tree species composition (biotic-dispersed, resprouter species, Quercus spp. vs. wind-dispersed species with or without fire-resistant seed bank, Pinus spp.). Results showed that stable forest areas exhibited a higher post-fire recovery than younger forests. Furthermore, the longer since crop abandonment translates into a faster post-fire recovery. Results highlight that to anticipate the impacts of disturbances on ecosystems, historical land trajectories should be taken into account. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

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