, Volume 17, Issue 8, pp 1439–1454 | Cite as

Stand Structure and Recent Climate Change Constrain Stand Basal Area Change in European Forests: A Comparison Across Boreal, Temperate, and Mediterranean Biomes

  • P. Ruiz-BenitoEmail author
  • J. Madrigal-González
  • S. Ratcliffe
  • D. A. Coomes
  • G. Kändler
  • A. Lehtonen
  • C. Wirth
  • M. A. Zavala


European forests have a prominent role in the global carbon cycle and an increase in carbon storage has been consistently reported during the twentieth century. Any further increase in forest carbon storage, however, could be hampered by increases in aridity and extreme climatic events. Here, we use forest inventory data to identify the relative importance of stand structure (stand basal area and mean d.b.h.), mean climate (water availability), and recent climate change (temperature and precipitation anomalies) on forest basal area change during the late twentieth century in three major European biomes. Using linear mixed-effects models we observed that stand structure, mean climate, and recent climatic change strongly interact to modulate basal area change. Although we observed a net increment in stand basal area during the late twentieth century, we found the highest basal area increments in forests with medium stand basal areas and small to medium-sized trees. Stand basal area increases correlated positively with water availability and were enhanced in warmer areas. Recent climatic warming caused an increase in stand basal area, but this increase was offset by water availability. Based on recent trends in basal area change, we conclude that the potential rate of aboveground carbon accumulation in European forests strongly depends on both stand structure and concomitant climate warming, adding weight to suggestions that European carbon stocks may saturate in the near future.


Carbon sink Climatic variability Competition Inventory-based data Minimum temperature Mixed models Water availability Stand basal area change 



This research was supported by the CARBO-Extreme (FP7-ENV-2008-1-226701) and Leverhulme Trust project IN-2013-004. PRB was supported by a FPU fellowship (AP2008-01325). We thank A. Herrero for interesting discussion on earlier versions of this manuscript, the MAGRAMA for granting access to the Spanish Forest Inventory data, the Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut for making data from the first and second German National Forest Inventory available, and to the Finnish Forest Research Institute (METLA) for making permanent sample plot data from 1985 to 1986 and from 1995 available. We also acknowledge access to UDel_AirT_Precip data provided by the NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, Colorado, USA (

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1780 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Ruiz-Benito
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • J. Madrigal-González
    • 2
  • S. Ratcliffe
    • 4
  • D. A. Coomes
    • 5
  • G. Kändler
    • 6
  • A. Lehtonen
    • 7
  • C. Wirth
    • 4
    • 8
  • M. A. Zavala
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Forest Ecology and GeneticsForest Research Center - Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (CIFOR-INIA)MadridSpain
  2. 2.Forest Ecology and Restoration Group, Department of Life Sciences, Science BuildingUniversity of AlcalaAlcalá de HenaresSpain
  3. 3.Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  4. 4.University of Leipzig, AG Spezielle Botanik und Funktionelle BiodiversitätLeipzigGermany
  5. 5.Forest Ecology and Conservation Group, Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  6. 6.The Forest Research InstituteFreiburgGermany
  7. 7.Vantaa Research CentreFinnish Forest Research InstituteVantaaFinland
  8. 8.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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