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Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Europe: State of Knowledge and Ways Forward for Management

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Outbreaks of tree-killing bark beetles have reached unprecedented levels in conifer forests in the northern hemisphere and are expected to further intensify due to climate change. In parts of Europe, bark beetle outbreaks and efforts to manage them have even triggered social unrests and political instability. These events have increasingly challenged traditional responses to outbreaks, and highlight the need for a more comprehensive management framework.

Recent Findings

Several synthesis papers on different aspects of bark beetle ecology and management exist. However, our understanding of outbreak drivers and impacts, principles of ecosystem management, governance, and the role of climate change in the dynamics of ecological and social systems has rapidly advanced in recent years. These advances are suggesting a reconsideration of previous management strategies.

Summary

We synthesize the state of knowledge on drivers and impacts of bark beetle outbreaks in Europe and propose a comprehensive context-dependent framework for their management. We illustrate our ideas for two contrasting societal objectives that represent the end-members of a continuum of forest management goals: wood and biomass production and the conservation of biodiversity and natural processes. For production forests, we propose a management approach addressing economic, social, ecological, infrastructural, and legislative aspects of bark beetle disturbances. In conservation forests, where non-intervention is the default option, we elaborate under which circumstances an active intervention is necessary, and whether such an intervention is in conflict with the objective to conserve biodiversity. Our approach revises the current management response to bark beetles in Europe and promotes an interdisciplinary social-ecological approach to dealing with disturbances.

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Data Availability

All data and material will be made available via the Zenodo repository upon paper’s acceptance

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Acknowledgements

We thank Sandy Liebhold for his valuable insights in the early phases of our work. We also acknowledge the European Forest Institute for initiating the research leading to this publication. We thank JRC/EU AGRI4CAST for making available the used climate data.

Code Availability

Not applicable

Funding

Writing and reviewing of the paper by TH and MS was supported by the grant “EVA4.0,” No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000803 financed by OP RDE. M. L. was supported by the project “SURE-- SUstaining and Enhancing REsilience of European Forests” financed by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. C. M. H. was supported by a grant overseen by the French National Research Agency (ANR) as part of the “Investissements d’Avenir” program (ANR-11-LABX-0002-01, Lab of Excellence ARBRE). M. J. S. was supported by project Innovative forest MAnagEment STrategies for a Resilient biOeconomy under climate change and disturbances (I-MAESTRO; ForestValue Eranet, FNR project ID 2219NR189). H. Q. was supported by the Decision, Risk and Management Sciences Program of the USA’s National Science Foundation, Award #1733990. L. K. was funded by the PE&RC Graduate Programme of the Graduate School for Production Ecology & Resource Conservation (PE&RC) of Wageningen University.

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Contributions

T. H., R. S., K. F. R., J. M., P. K., C. M. H., H. Q.—conceptualization and methodology; M. J. S., L. K.—formal analysis and data curation; M. L., M. S., H. V.—review and editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tomáš Hlásny.

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Appendices

Appendix 1. Spruce Distribution and Growing Stock Map: Methodology

A map of Norway spruce growing stock in Europe was produced by combining the live tree volume map of Moreno et al. [1] and the tree species cover map of Brus et al. [2]. The data and code can be found at figshare (https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3463902). The species distribution map is freely available at the European Forest Institute (http://dataservices.efi.int/tree-species-map/register.php). We transformed the volume map from a WGS84 projection with a resolution of 0.1333° to the ETRS_1989_LAEA projection of the tree species cover map with a resolution of 1×1km to facilitate further analyses.

We classified the spruce biomass map into the categories “low” (up to 50 m3 ha−1), “medium” (51 to 100 m3 ha−1), and “high” (above 100 m3 ha−1) biomass levels (Fig. 2).

All analyses were performed in ArcMap 10.6.1 [3]. Graphical outputs were produced in R [4] using packages sf [5], ggplot2 [6], and raster [7].

Appendix 2. Probability Maps of Spruce Stands Being Disturbed by Bark Beetles: Methodology

The annual probability of bark beetle damage (pBB) across Europe was calculated after Seidl et al. [8] on a 25×25 km grid. We used a constant stand age of 100 years, relative stocking density 100%, and spruce share 100%. Climate data was obtained from the Joint Research Centre (http://agri4cast.jrc.ec.europa.eu/). We calculated the base map for historical temperature conditions using climate data for the period 1979–1990, and modeled two climate change scenarios by adding 2 °C and 4 °C. This approach focuses on the sensitivities to temperature as it expects a unidirectional change in this parameter for the coming decades, while precipitation changes remain uncertain and will likely differ regionally. We used the following formulas to calculate the pBB:

$$ pBB=\frac{e^{Z_{ijklm}}}{1+{e}^{Z_{ijklm}}} $$
$$ {Z}_{ij klm}=\mu +{a}_i+{b}_j+{c}_k+{d}_l+{e}_m+{\left(a\times b\right)}_{ij}+{\left(a\times c\right)}_{ik} $$
$$ \kern4.5em +{\left(a\times d\right)}_{il}+{\left(a\times e\right)}_{im}+{\left(b\times c\right)}_{jk}+{\left(b\times d\right)}_{jl} $$
$$ \kern4.5em +{\left(b\times e\right)}_{jm}+{\varepsilon}_{ijklm} $$

pBB probability of bark beetle damage

Zijklm linear combination of predictor variables

μ intercept

ai logarithmic mean annual temperature (i = 2–15°C)

bj logarithmic mean annual precipitation (j = 500–2 000 mm)

ck stand age (k = 100)

dl relative stocking density (l = 1.0)

em host tree share (m = 100%)

ɛijklm error term

Class width in the presented maps (Fig. 3) was calculated as the difference between maximum and minimum pBB over all maps divided by the number of classes. The resulting probability categories were “very low” (pBB 0.3–1.96), “low” (pBB 1.97–3.63), “medium” (pBB 3.64–5.29), “high” (pBB 5.3–6.95), and “very high” (pBB 6.96–8.63).

Appendix 3. Biomass of Spruce at Risk in Europe

Fig. 6
figure 6

Absolute volume of Norway spruce in different outbreak risk classes across different temperature conditions. The graph is complementary to Fig. 4 in the main text

Appendix 4. Spruce Growing Stock in Europe’s Protected Areas

Proportions of spruce growing stock inside and outside protected areas were calculated by overlaying the spruce distribution map (Appendix 1) with the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) acquired from the Protected Planet network [9]. Protected areas included in the analysis had the following statuses: designated, inscribed, adopted, and established. Further, we selected only those areas that were predominantly or entirely terrestrial. We calculated spruce growing stock for two different categories of protected areas:

  1. 1)

    Highly protected areas: IUCN categories Ia Strict Nature Reserve, Ib Wilderness area, and II National Park

  2. 2)

    Protected areas: IUCN categories Ia Strict Nature Reserve, Ib Wilderness area, II National Park, III Natural Monument or Feature, IV Habitat/Species Management Area, V Protected Landscape/Seascape, VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

    Table 2 Spruce growing stock inside and outside protected areas

    Further, we calculated the number and area of protected areas in Europe falling into the distributional range of spruce in Europe (Appendix 1). To identify the distributional range of spruce, we selected areas containing more than 1 m3ha−1 of spruce.

    Table 3 Number and area of protected areas inside and outside spruce distribution range

Appendix 5. Main Items of the Comprehensive Outbreak Management Framework

Preparedness
# Tools and measures Description
1.1 Improving education Development of new curricula, and intensive education and training at all levels of forest policy- and decision-making.
1.2 Strengthening international collaboration The transboundary scale of outbreaks and the potential introduction and spread of invasive pests require strengthened international collaboration on data and knowledge sharing, pest monitoring, and crises management.
1.3 Increasing knowledge transfer and evidence-based decision-making Intensifying outbreaks are increasingly questioning the efficiency of traditional approaches to controlling outbreaks. There is a need for improved knowledge transfer from science to policy, legislation, and practical management, as well as the development of best practice examples, to improve management of bark beetle populations.
1.4 Developing effective crises management programs Outbreaks occurring at national or supranational scales require well-prepared cross-sectoral responses (forestry, environment, finance, transportation, public security, etc.).
1.5 Developing zonation for nature conservation areas Landscape-level planning in nature conservation areas should include adequate buffer zones to prevent dispersal of beetles into adjacent managed forests.
1.6 Maintaining multi-stakeholder dialogue Dialogue should be maintained with all stakeholders involved in outbreak management or otherwise concerned with the forest and its development to increase the efficiency of measures, acceptance of the final outcome, and mitigate the risk of societal conflicts.
1.7 Building relationships with local communities Building relationships with local communities and clearly communicating risks and potential countermeasures prior to outbreaks lends legitimacy to outbreak management and reduces the risk of societal conflicts.
1.8 Improving and/or establishing systems for monitoring forest susceptibility to disturbance and the dynamics of pest populations Timely and efficient implementation of management actions require early detection of highly susceptible forest conditions, climatic extreme events that could trigger pest outbreaks, quantitative modeling and sampling of pest densities, and detecting the appearance of new pests.
1.9 Maintain sufficient levels of well-trained professionals Employment levels in forestry are going down, yet challenges—such as dealing with bark beetle outbreaks—are increasing. In order to be prepared to deal with these challenges, it is important to have well-trained forestry personnel on site that knows the local conditions.
1.10 Supporting advanced regeneration Maintaining a vigorous advanced spruce regeneration facilitates a faster recovery of forest cover after a disturbance event.
1.11 Maintain sufficient nursery capacity Greatly increased demands on reproductive material of suitable species and provenances after large-scale bark beetle disturbances may exceed the existing capacity of nurseries and could result in insufficient regeneration of disturbed areas.
1.12 Developing and maintaining an adequate forest road network A sufficient forest road network is needed for small-scale interventions, and resilience-oriented management, as well as efficient detection and removal of infested trees.
1.13 Increasing timber storage capacities Sufficient facilities for wet storage of timber function as a supply buffer after windthrows and bark beetle outbreaks by preventing large quantities of timber to flood the market.
Prevention
# Tools and measures Description
2.1 Developing early-warning systems and integrating them in outbreak management Development and maintenance of early-warning systems based on near-real time weather data, automated beetle monitoring, and/or remote sensing data helps to identify areas with a high risk of bark beetle attacks, and to implement targeted prevention measures.
2.2 Coordinating beetle management across the landscape Effective management of outbreaks is often complicated in multi-owner landscapes. Plans for coordinated management actions across property boundaries is needed to prevent outbreaks to spread.
2.3 Decreasing landscape-scale host connectivity Aim to reduce the landscape-scale connectivity of susceptible hosts by implementing targeted landscape management measures that contain the spread of beetles from individual attack spots.
2.4 Use pheromone traps to monitor beetle populations and potential invasions Pheromone traps can be efficiently used to monitor beetle populations and inform management decisions on timing and intensity of control measures.
2.5 Maintaining compositionally and structurally diverse stands Mixed stands with a complex vertical and horizontal structure tend to be less likely to generate outbreaks and generally exhibit a higher survival rate under compounding disturbances than monospecific stands of homogeneous structure.
2.6 Reducing the rotation period Tree vulnerability to wind and bark beetle damage increases with age and tree size. Reducing the area of susceptible age classes reduces the overall outbreak risk.
2.7 Increasing host tree resistance by thinning Silvicultural treatments that reduce competition between trees can increase tree vigor and resistance against bark beetles.
2.8 Early detection of infested trees A prerequisite for efficient sanitation felling is the ability to detect infested trees early (in the green attack stage) using a range of terrestrial and remote sensing approaches.
2.9 Reducing outbreak risks by sanitation felling Removing infested trees from the forest while the beetle brood is still inside can reduce beetle populations, maintain forest health, and decrease outbreak risks. Sanitation harvest of windfelled trees to prevent build-up of beetle populations is also effective.
2.10 Preventing beetle spread from felled trees and logs Mechanical or chemical treatment of infested windfalls and logs can prevent beetles from leaving the trees and infesting live trees. Another option is the timely removal of infested trees from the forest.
2.11 Creating habitats for the natural enemies of bark beetles Bark beetles have a number of natural enemies (birds, predatory beetles, etc.). Creating diverse stands with favorable habitat conditions for natural enemies can reduce beetle populations and reduce outbreak risks.
Response
# Tools and measures Description
3.1 Salvage logging Salvage logging is the removal of infested, windfelled, or otherwise damaged trees with the primary intention to recover economic losses. Salvaging needs to take place before timber quality deteriorates. Potential negative impacts of salvage logging on biodiversity should be considered.
3.2 Reducing planned harvests A reduction of planned harvests can free up capacities for logging of beetle-killed timber and mitigate adverse effects of a temporary timber surplus on the market.
3.3 Subsidizing response measures Responses to a large-scale bark beetle outbreak may require substantial investments, which could exceed the capacity of forest owners. Subsidizing timber transport, storage, and other components of outbreak management can mitigate economic impacts and increase the efficiency of the response actions.
3.4 Considering “no management” as a possible response option No management needs to be considered as a possible response option in situations where salvaging is not economically viable and extensive sanitary felling, mass-trapping, or other measures do not hold promise of containing the outbreak. In such situations, benefits from the retention of biological legacies should be exploited.
3.5 Sanitation logging Detection and removal of infested trees can be applied to prevent the spread of infestations, particularly for small infestation spots. Trees damaged by wind or other abiotic factors should be prioritized because they have weakened defenses against bark beetles and serve as multipliers for beetle populations. Hazard-rating and other types of models can be used to optimize sanitation felling and reduce the connectivity of host trees and beetle populations.
3.6 Increasing multi-stakeholder dialogue and communicating response strategies to the public Maintaining a good dialogue with all stakeholders involved in outbreak management will improve the efficiency of control measures and the acceptance of final outcomes. Use of the media to communicate management strategies and progress to the general public will raise awareness and reduce the risk of negative responses toward management actions.
Recovery
# Tools and measures Description
4.1 Fostering diverse stands During the recovery phase there are excellent opportunities to influence the tree species composition of the regeneration, thereby reducing the vulnerability to future outbreaks.
4.2 Supporting advanced regeneration Advanced regeneration present on site should be spared during logging operations, as it facilitates a faster recovery of the forest canopy and restores the microclimate.
4.3 Harnessing early-successional species Regeneration of early-successional species such as birch, poplar, and larch can swiftly establish a new canopy. Commercially more important species can later be planted under this canopy.
4.4 Considering natural recovery processes Forests have a high capacity to naturally recover from disturbances. Low-cost natural stand recovery options can be considered in areas where a speedy recovery of spruce forests is not of paramount importance and where locally relevant ecosystem services are also provided by naturally regenerating tree species.
4.5 Planting seedlings on disturbed sites Planting seedlings leads to a quicker recovery of tree cover and gives more control over the future tree species composition.
4.6 Protecting the regeneration against adverse effects Protection of seedlings against animal browsing and competing vegetation improves the growth rate and quality (shape) of the trees.
4.7 Integrating disturbance legacies into the recovering forest Disturbance legacies, such as remaining live trees and standing and downed deadwood, can be integrated into the recovering forest rather than being completely removed. Such legacies support the regenerating tree cohort and increase the structural diversity of the recovering stand.
4.8 Reducing browsing by ungulates Browsing by ungulates is a key limiting factor for regeneration of disturbed forests in many parts of Europe. Ungulate densities should thus be regulated to levels where they do not hamper a successful and swift regeneration of desired tree species.
4.9 Maintaining multi-stakeholder dialogue Maintaining the dialogue with all stakeholders involved in outbreak management makes it possible to track changing risk perceptions and responses.
4.10 Forest insurance Forest owners can be insured against certain kinds of forest damage and loss of future income in some countries (e.g., Finland and Norway). This provides an effective distribution of economic risks from disturbances among forest owners.
4.11 Subsidizing recovery measures Recovery from large-scale bark beetle outbreaks may require substantial investments, which may exceed the capacity of forest owners. Recovery actions can be made more efficient by subsidizing afforestation with tree species mixtures, tree species that are well adapted to local climates, protection measures against browsing, etc.

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Hlásny, T., König, L., Krokene, P. et al. Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Europe: State of Knowledge and Ways Forward for Management. Curr Forestry Rep 7, 138–165 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40725-021-00142-x

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Keywords

  • Bark beetle outbreaks
  • Climate change
  • Forest disturbances
  • Societal objectives
  • Forest ecosystem services