The relative importance of climatic effects, wildfires and management for future forest landscape dynamics in the Swiss Alps
Forest landscape dynamics result from the complex interaction of driving forces and ecological processes operating on various scales. Projected climate change for the 21st century will alter climate-sensitive processes, causing shifts in species composition and also bringing about changes in disturbance regimes, particularly regarding wildfires. Previous studies of the impact of climate change on forests have focused mainly on the direct effects of climate. In the present study, we assessed the interactions among forest dynamics, climate change and large-scale disturbances such as fire, wind and forest management. We used the LandClim model to investigate the influence, interactions and the relative importance of these different drivers of landscape dynamics in two case study areas of the European Alps. The simulations revealed that projected future climate change would cause extensive forest cover changes, beginning in the coming decades. Fire is likely to become almost as important for shaping the landscape as the direct effects of climate change, even in areas where major wildfires do not occur under current climatic conditions. The effects of variable wind disturbances and harvesting regimes, however, are less likely to have a considerable impact on forest development compared with the direct effects of climate change coupled with the indirect effects of increased fire activity. We conclude that the joint direct and indirect effects of climate change are likely to have major consequences for mountain forests in the European Alps, including their ability to provide protection against natural hazards.