, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1-18

Current status and predicted impact of climate change on forest production and biogeochemistry in the temperate oceanic European zone: review and prospects for Belgium as a case study

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Abstract

Reviews of the current statuses of forests and the impacts of climate change on forests exist at the (sub)continental scale, but rarely at country and regional levels, meaning that information on causal factors, their impacts, and specific regional properties is often inconsistent and lacking in depth. Here, we present the current status of forest production and biogeochemistry and the expected impacts of climate change on them for Belgium. This work represents a case study for the temperate oceanic zone, the most important bioclimatic zone in northwestern Europe. Results show that Belgian forests are mainly young, very productive, and have a high C-sequestration capacity. Major negative anomalies in tree vitality were observed in the 1990s and—as result of disturbances—in the last decade for sensitive species as poplars and European beech. The most severe disturbances were caused by extreme climatic events, directly (e.g. storms) or indirectly (e.g. insect outbreaks after a mild autumn with an early/severe frost). Because of atmospheric deposition and soil fertilization (due to the previous use of the land), nutrient stocks of Belgian forests are likely to sustain the future enhancement in productivity which is expected to follow the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration that will occur in years to come. However, in the long term, such (enhanced) forest production is likely to be limited by nutrient deficiencies at poor sites and by drought for sensitive species such as beech and (particularly) Norway spruce. Drought conditions will likely increase in the future, but adverse effects are expected on a relatively limited number of tree species. The potential impacts of windstorms, insects and fungi should be carefully investigated, whereas fires are less of a concern.