Climate change and forest health: abiotic disturbances

Abiotic disturbances – disturbances caused by non-living factors – are a natural and integral part of forest ecosystems that have major impacts, positive and negative. They influence forest structure, composition and functioning and can be important for maintaining biological diversity and facilitating regeneration. When disturbances exceed their normal range of variation, however, the impacts on forests can be extreme affecting entire landscapes, causing large-scale tree mortality and complete destruction of undergrowth and soils. Global climate change is exacerbating many of these impacts by making forests more prone to damage by altering the frequency, intensity and timing of some events such as cyclones, storms, landslides, insect and disease outbreaks, and heat waves and droughts which increase the risk of large-scale fires.

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  • Anthropogenic
  • Climatological
  • Geophysical
  • Hydrological
  • Meteorological

Emergent vulnerability to climate-driven disturbances

It is not easy to quantify global damages by both biotic and abiotic disturbances but it is widely acknowledged that forest disturbance regimes are expected to intensify as Earth’s climate changes.
In example, the vulnerability of European forests to fires, windthrows and insect outbreaks during the period 1979–2018 analysed concluding that about 33.4 billion tonnes of forest biomass could be seriously affected by these disturbances, with higher relative losses when exposed to windthrows (40%) and fires (34%) compared to insect outbreaks (26%). (Source: Forzieri, G., Girardello, M., Ceccherini, G. et al. Emergent vulnerability to climate-driven disturbances in European forests. Nat Commun 12, 1081 (2021). )

last updated:  Thursday, November 18, 2021