Forestry and Peatlands Slovakia
Vulnerabilities - Slovakia
The share of total GDP generated by forestry in Slovakia decreased to 0.46% in 2007 (30).
Drought is a stress factor for forest ecosystems (30,32). In the period 1951-2005 aridity significantly increased in south Slovakia (30).
In recent centuries, Norway spruce has been extensively planted in many regions of Europe to meet the growing demands of regional industries (36). Such secondary, low-diversity forests are prone to diverse kinds of damage (37) and can be sensitive to the direct effects of climate change.
Climate change impacts on the growth and natural mortality of Norway spruce, European beech, and oak have been estimated for Central Europe for the IPCC SRES A1B scenario for 2021-2050 and 2071-2100, compared with 1961-1990 (based on two global climate models and four regional climate models). Growth simulations indicated that climate change will substantially affect the growth of spruce and beech, but not of oak, in Central Europe. Growth of spruce and beech in their upper distribution ranges was projected to improve, while drought-induced production decline was projected at the species’ receding edges. The results indicate that oak production will either remain the same as in the reference period or will increase (31).
Projections of spruce and beach biomass production at the end of this century (period 2071-2100, under the A1B scenario) indicate an obvious pattern of growth decline at low elevations related to an increasing water shortage, and a minor growth acceleration at high elevations that was mainly induced by an increase in air temperature and a prolonged growing season (39). Beech biomass production was significantly less sensitive to climate change than spruce biomass production. The European beech seems to be a suitable surrogate species in the conversion of secondary Norway spruce forests (33).
Forest pests react on changing conditions of the environment directly by changing the dynamics of their population, and indirectly through the changes in the structure of forests and resistance of trees. This means that the impacts of climate change could result in changing behaviour of relatively unimportant pests, which can cause large damages in the future. Even small oscillations in temperature might have extensive impacts on forests. Besides the changes in distribution sites of pests, climate change also influences the number of realized generations within one year. If warming prolongs vegetation period, the number of generations of several species is expected to be higher to the north and in higher altitudes (30).
In Slovakia, the proportion of Norway Spruce in total composition of forests is expected to decrease from the current 27% to less than half this percentage due to climate change; spruce is relatively vulnerable to climate change due to its shallow root system. European beech, on the other hand, will substantially grow due its relatively good adaptability and stress tolerance (30).
Vulnerabilities - Overview
The increased vulnerability of forests (and people) with respect to climate change refers to several impacts (22,28):
- Forest cover: conversion of forests to non-woody energy plantations; accelerated deforestation and forest degradation; increased use of wood for domestic energy.
- Biodiversity: alteration of plant and animal distributions; loss of biodiversity; habitat invasions by non-native species; alteration of pollination systems; changes in plant dispersal and regeneration.
- Productivity: changes in forest growth and ecosystem biomass; changes in species/site relations; changes in ecosystem nitrogen dynamics.
- Health: increased mortality due to climate stresses; decreased health and vitality of forest ecosystems due to the cumulative impacts of multiple stressors; deteriorating health of forest-dependent peoples.
- Soils and water: changes in the seasonality and intensity of precipitation, altering the flow regimes of streams; changes in the salinity of coastal forest ecosystems; increased probability of severe droughts; increased terrain instability and soil erosion due to increased precipitation and melting of permafrost; more/earlier snow melt resulting in changes in the timing of peak flow and volume in streams. The capacity of the forest ecosystem to purify water is an important service, obviating the cost of expensive filtration plants.
- Carbon cycles: alteration of forest sinks and increased CO2 emissions from forested ecosystems due to changes in forest growth and productivity.
- Tangible benefits of forests for people: changes in tree cover; changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in availability of specific forest products (timber, non-timber wood products and fuel wood, wild foods, medicines, and other non-wood forest products).
- Intangible services provided by forests: changes in the incidence of conflicts between humans and wildlife; changes in the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples (also a tangible benefit); changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in the cultural, religious and spiritual values associated with particular forests.
Increasing CO2 concentration can affect tree growth through increased photosynthetic rates and through improved water-use efficiency. There will be complex interactions, however: forest growth rates may well be increased in some cases by rising levels of atmospheric CO2, but rising temperatures, higher evaporation rates and lower rainfall may lower growth rates in other cases (13). An increased concentration of atmospheric CO2 can have a fertilizing effect that may increase tree productivity and water stress tolerance, although this effect can differ depending on site, tree dimensions, and other factors (34).
Particularly in Central Europe, an increased water scarcity interacting with climate-sensitive pest dynamics has been recognized as the most significant climate change-related threat to forests (35).
Increasingly there are concerns about the productivity of non-timber products such as medicines and foods. Relatively little information is available in the scientific literature about the sustainable management of such products, and even less is known about their vulnerability to climate change (22).
Increase of drought and insect damages have occurred over the last years. Precipitation change in relation to water balance changes will be the key parameter for growth on more than 50% of forest territory in Slovakia (1).
Generally, during the coming years (up to 2060) a slight decrease of timber supply is expected. Changes in forests due to climate change will be connected with the water management sector in Slovakia. Sensitivity and vulnerability analysis of the surface water resources on possible climate change showed that most vulnerable regions for surface water resources and forests are similar. Therefore, changes of forests stands can bring additional problems into the water management sector such as larger differences between maximum and minimum runoffs, higher potential for soil erosion and a decrease in the total water supply (1).
Vulnerabilities – Temperate forests in Europe
In parts of Europe with temperate forests, annual mean temperatures are below 17°C but above 6°C, and annual precipitation is at least 500 mm and there is a markedly cool winter period (2). Temperate forests are dominated by broad-leaf species with smaller amounts of evergreen broad-leaf and needle-leaf species (3). Common species include the oaks, eucalypts, acacias, beeches, pines, and birches.
Many of the major factors that influence these forests are due to human activities, including land-use and landscape fragmentation, pollution, soil nutrients and chemistry, fire suppression, alteration to herbivore populations, species loss, alien invasive species, and now climate change (4).
Forest productivity has been increasing in western Europe (5). This is thought to be from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (6), anthropogenic nitrogen deposition (7), warming temperatures (8), and associated longer growing seasons (9).
Most models predict continuing trends of modestly increasing forest productivity in Western Europe over this century (10). Projections for the time near the end of the next century generally suggest decreasing growth and a reduction in primary productivity enhancement as temperatures warm, CO2 saturation is reached for photosynthetic enhancement, and reduced summer precipitation all interact to decrease temperate zone primary productivity (11). The projected increased occurrence of pests, particularly in drought-stressed regions, also contributes to decreased long-term primary productivity in some regions of temperate forests (12).
Sensitivity to increasing air pollution loads, particularly nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone, will impact large areas of the northern temperate forest over the next century. In the temperate domain, air pollution is expected to interact with climate change; while the fertilization effects from nitrogen deposition are still highly uncertain, pollutants such as ozone are known to diminish primary productivity (13).
The ranges of northern temperate forests are predicted to extend into the boreal forest range in the north and upward on mountains (14). The distribution of temperate broadleaved tree species is typically limited by low winter temperatures (15). Since the latter are projected to rise more rapidly than summer temperatures in Europe and North America, temperate broad-leaved tree species may profit and invade currently boreal areas more rapidly than other temperate species.
Temperate forest regions in the highly productive forests of western Europe (16) are known to be robust carbon sinks, although increased temperature may reduce this effect through loss of carbon from soils (17). Weaker carbon sinks or even carbon losses are seen for temperate forests in areas prone to periodic drought, such as southern Europe (18).
Models suggest that the greatest climate change threat to temperate forest ecosystems is reduced summer precipitation, leading to increased frequency and severity of drought (19). This will probably be most prominent in temperate forest regions that have already been characterized as prone to drought stress, such as southern Europe. Drought-stricken forests are also more susceptible to opportunistic pests and fire (20). Together, these related effects can potentially change large areas of temperate forest ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources.
Globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century, when water was not limiting (29).
Timber production in Europe
Climate change will probably increase timber production and reduce prices for wood products in Europe. For 2000–2050 a change of timber production in Europe is expected of -4 to +5%. For 2050–2100 an increase is expected of +2 to +13% (21).
Vulnerabilities – Carpathian forests
Forests provide a number of important ecosystem services to society. They provide timber and protect against floods, mudflows, and other natural hazards by regulating water flows. Another important service is the accumulation of carbon. The more carbon is accumulated in the trees of a forest, the more this forest contributes to the mitigation of climate change. Global warming will change the composition of forests, and this will affect the provision of ecosystem services (44). This is not just due to the direct impact of higher temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. In particular bark beetle infestations will also likely increase due to more favourable thermal conditions and higher susceptibility of host trees due to stronger drought stress (45).
The Carpathian forests as an example
The Carpathian forests are an example of forests where significant changes are expected in the composition of tree species, leading to a reduction of forest carbon sink capacity (46). These forests are the second largest mountain range in Europe predominantly covered with forests. They span seven countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine). Because carbon sequestration is the most important climate regulating function in European temperate forests (47), the Carpathians play a key role in climate change mitigation for the region (43).
The future forest and carbon dynamics of the Carpathians was studied by means of a forest landscape model including interactions between vegetation, climate, and disturbance regimes (43). The study area was chosen in Ukraine, in the centre of these forests. Prevailing tree species in this area are European beech, sessile oak (at lower elevations), and Norway spruce and silver fir (at mid-high elevations. Pedunculated oak, European hornbeam, and sycamore maple are also very common for the study region (48).
The impacts of four different scenarios of climate change were studied: a low-end and a high-end scenario, and two intermediate scenarios (the so-called RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5 scenarios). For these scenarios, projected temperature change between the period 1980-2005 and the period 2071-2095 was calculated. This temperature was then kept constant for 500 years since forest tree composition responds very slowly to climate change, although this response is faster due to natural disturbances such as bark beetle infestations (49). Predicted precipitation changes in this region are minor and thus considered negligible (50).
A significant reduction of stored carbon
The results show a change in species composition accompanied by a significant reduction of the amount of carbon that is stored in the trees above the ground, the so-called ‘aboveground live carbon’ (ALC). Projected changes after 500 years are such that between 2.1% (RCP2.6) and 14.0% (RCP8.5) less carbon is stored in trees above the ground. The additional impact of disturbances such as bark beetle infestations led to an additional reduction of 4.5% − 6.6% stored carbon (43).
This reduction is especially due to the contraction of spruce forests in favour of hornbeam- and maple-dominated forests, and an upward shift of beech- and fir-dominated forests. Soil water stress in response to increasing air temperatures is an important driver of these changes (51). These findings are consistent with previous studies on vegetation dynamics under climate change in Europe (52).
The study illustrates that a strong spruce decline under global warming in European forests may turn these forests into a carbon source and thus reinforce global warming.
Adaptation strategies - Forest management measures in general
More diversified forest ecosystems can better withstand the anticipated climate warming and drying (32). Near-nature forest management and a move away from monocultures toward mixed forest types, in terms of both species and age classes, are advocated. In addition, natural or imitated natural regeneration is indicated as a method of maintaining genetic diversity, and subsequently reducing vulnerability. For management against extreme disturbances, improvements in fire detection and suppression techniques are recommended, as well as methods for combating pests and diseases. It is reported that through stricter quarantine and sanitary management, the impact of insects and diseases can be minimized. The establishment of migration corridors between forest reserves may aid in the autonomous colonization and migration of species in response to climate change (26).
Adaptation strategies - Vulnerability of spruce forests
In recent centuries, Norway spruce has been extensively planted in many regions of Europe to meet the growing demands of regional industries (36). Such secondary, low-diversity forests are prone to diverse kinds of damage (37) and can be sensitive to the direct effects of climate change. The transformations of the even-aged single-species forestry to alternative silviculture systems in many European countries (38) are particularly important in such forests because such transformations can increase such forests‘ resilience and inherent adaptive capacity.
Reducing forest damage, increasing forest diversity, and a substantial investment in forest protection could result in spruce continuing to be an important component of regional forests (33). An increase in diversity can help stabilize regional forests by enhancing compensatory dynamics between species (40), by mitigating disturbance impacts (41), and by increasing the inherent adaptive capacity of forests (Lindner et al. 2010). Moreover, enhanced species mixtures in spruce monocultures may increase the survival of spruce (42). The European beech seems to be a suitable surrogate species in the conversion of secondary Norway spruce forests (33).
Adaptation strategies - Carpathian forests
Foresighted management strategies are needed to facilitate vegetation adaptation to climate change, with the goal of stabilizing carbon storage and maintaining economic value of future Carpathian forests. The authors of this study recommend that managers consider fostering highly productive tree species where they are expected to be adaptable in the future, and facilitating the adaptation of forest vegetation to novel environmental conditions where disturbances are expected to increase significantly. Active measures, like planting of oak, beech, and fir at higher locations, may facilitate the adjustment process (43).
The terms adaptation and adaptive management are often incorrectly used interchangeably. The former involves making adjustments in response to or in anticipation of climate change whereas the latter describes a management system that may be considered, in itself, to be an adaptation tactic (23). Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes (24). It involves recognizing uncertainty and establishing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning those uncertainties; it uses management as a tool not only to change the system but to learn about the system (25).
Both the climate and forest ecosystems are constantly changing, and managers will need to adapt their strategies as the climate evolves over the long term. An option that might be appropriate today given expected changes over the next 20 years may no longer be appropriate in 20 years’ time. This will require a continuous programme of actions, monitoring and evaluation – the adaptive management approach described above (22).
There is a widespread assumption that the forest currently at a site is adapted to the current conditions, but this ignores the extent to which the climate has changed over the past 200–300 years, and the lag effects that occur in forests. As a result, replacement of a forest by one of the same composition may no longer be a suitable strategy (22).
Adaptation to climate change has started to be incorporated into all levels of governance, from forest management to international forest policy. Often these policies are not adopted solely in response to climate, and may occur in the absence of knowledge about longer-term climate change. They often serve more than one purpose, including food and fuel provision, shelter and minimizing erosion, as well as adapting to changing climatic conditions (26).
Socio-economic and political conditions have significant influences on vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Climate change projections are perceived by many forest managers as too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Similarly, uncertainty over future policy developments may also constrain action. Finance is a further barrier to implementing adaptation actions in the forest sector (27).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Slovakia.
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