SPONFOREST - Unravelling the potential of spontaneous forest establishment for improving ecosystem functions and services in dynamic landscapes

The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 aims to establish green infrastructures and to restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems until 2020. Forests play a key role to reach these aims. While European policy strongly supports the afforestation of former farmlands, it has to date largely neglected opportunities for passive landscape restoration. Spontaneous forest establishment is occurring in many parts of Europe following the widespread abandonment of agricultural land use. Whereas this process is often considered as a challenge than an opportunity for landscape management and conservation, spontaneous forest establishment may contribute to the creation of multifunctional, diverse landscapes in Europe.

Against this background, SponForest investigates the following research questions:

1) How do new forest patches establish within fragmented landscapes?
2) Which consequences has the establishment process for the genetic and phenotypic diversity of new forest patches and for their functionality at ecosystem level?
3) Which ecosystem services do new forest patches provide, and how are they perceived and managed by local societies and political governance systems?

Main activities
The case studies involved five contrasting socio-economic context in Spain and France ranging from the Metropolitan area of Barcelona to sparsely populated mountain regions. Forest establishment will be investigated drawing on a broad spectrum of approaches including dendroecology, population genetics, functional ecology, remote sensing, and landscape analysis. The societal and political dimension will be analysed through document analysis and in-depth expert interviews with stakeholders and policy makers.

The project will organise a “Synthesis for Policy Application” workshop in Brussels that will translate into a jointly elaborated special issue on spontaneous forest establishment in an international policy-oriented environmental or forest science journal. Moreover, a BiodivERsA policy brief will be edited to support the outputs of the project. SponForest should thus contribute to strategies that optimize future forest governance and management approaches of spontaneous forest establishment at local to European scales.

INRA, Cestas, FRANCE (Coordinator)
Unique Forestry and Landuse GmbH, Freiburg, GERMANY
University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, GERMANY
Instituto de Ciências e Tecnologias Agrárias, Vairão, PORTUGAL
CREAF, Barcelona, SPAIN
Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, SPAIN

More info at the project website:https://www6.inrae.fr/sponforest/Project

SponForest is part of the BiodivERsA network and funded by the European Commission.

Project management
georg.winkel @ efi.int
INRA, Cestas, France
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