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Are beech populations in Southern Europe threatened by climate change?

28.07.2017 20:43

Due to climate change, the habitats of the southernmost populations of many tree species in Europe are likely to be unsuitable for these trees’ survival by the end of the 21st century. Such projections pose serious challenges to the forestry sector.

The ecological processes and factors that trigger mortality in southern tree populations are poorly understood. Cathleen Petit, a PhD student funded by the GenTree project and hosted at INRA URFM (Avignon, France), will focus her research on the identification of what factors limit survival of Fagus sylvatica at its southern margin of distribution in Europe. This insight will be used in combination with Species Distribution Models (SDM) to predict vulnerable areas for a set of five species of major interest for European forestry: Fagus sylvatica, Picea abies, Pinus sylvestris, Pinus pinaster and Quercus petraea.

She will then use her findings about processes influencing tree species mortality to calibrate CASTANEA, a mechanistic ecophysiological model that enables to predict species vulnerability. She will run the model for tree populations located in habitats identified as vulnerable and non-vulnerable, based on the SDM approach.

Vulnerability is rarely predicted using combined approaches, like in Cathleen’s research. The combination of a niche-based (SDM) and a process-based modeling (CASTANEA) will make it possible to better characterize vulnerability, a key issue in ecology. Secondly, it will enable to assess if the genetic conservation units defined as vulnerable based on the SDM approach are also vulnerable from an ecophysiological point of view, and to determine what are key drivers of vulnerability.

Finally, this combined approach will highlight what management solutions are best suited to offset tree mortality in vulnerable areas. Management solutions may span from a change in sylvicultural practices to a change of provenances, species or land use.

For any questions or suggestions, you can contact: Cathleen.Petit @



Dufrêne, E., Davi, H., Francois, C., le Maire, G., Le Dantec, V., & Granier, A. (2005). Modelling carbon and water cycles in a beech forest Part I: Model description and uncertainty analysis on modelled NEE.

Ecological Modelling, 185, 407-436. Schueler, S, Falk, W, Koskela, J, Lefevre, F, Bozzano, M, Hubert, J, Kraigher, H, Longauer, R, Olrik, DC (2014). Vulnerability of dynamic genetic conservation units of forest trees in Europe to climate change. Global Change Biology, 20, 1498-1511


Photo: Barbara Carvalho/CSIC


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