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Tools to imagine the forest of the future

04 August 2011 Irstea (formerly Cemagref)

Can we predict the future regeneration of a forest given that at time T, a volume V of wood is extracted? What effects will the cut have on the competition between young and old trees in their efforts to gain access to light? Cemagref researchers are developing simulation models to anticipate the impact of future management decisions over different time scales in order to ensure the long-term balance between wood-production systems and other forest functions.

High-altitude forests must protect and produce

In any given forest, a number of tree species grow together naturally, both hardwood and conifers, young and old, at all stages of size and growth, etc. In mountain regions, for example, these differences ensure continuous vegetation cover over time, an essential factor in maintaining continuous protection against natural hazards.

The Samsara simulation model developed by Cemagref scientists can anticipate the dynamics of a mountain forest in response to different management plans. It assists forest managers in determining the frequency of cuts, the volumes of wood extracted, the most effective stem diameters, etc. in order to maintain the best balance between the various ecosystem services provided by forests, namely protection, production and as biodiversity reserves. In conjunction with other mathematical models, Samsara supplies data to the Capsis platform developed with INRA.

Mixed forests in the new context

The platform is also supplied by other Cemagref models designed to improve mixed, low-land forests, such as those comprising oak and pine trees. One of the main goals of future models is to ensure sufficient quantities of wood without altering ecosystem balances. Another factor now taken into account in the models is global climate change. The researchers integrate variables for seasonal temperatures and precipitation in the models, then couple them with climate forecasts for the next 50 years. This work on the potential effects of climate change on the make-up and productivity of forests is a means to measure their vulnerability to climate risks. By simulating what forests will look like in the future, these models tell us which management techniques will ensure that forests resist intense droughts and heavy winds.

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