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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Microclimatic edge-to-interior gradients of European deciduous forests

Meeussen, Camille; Govaert, Sanne; Vanneste, Thomas; Bollmann, Kurt; Brunet, Jorg; Calders, Kim; Cousins, Sara A. O.; De Pauw, Karen; Diekmann, Martin; Gasperini, Cristina; Hedwall, Per-Ola; Hylander, Kristoffer; Iacopetti, Giovanni; Lenoir, Jonathan; Lindmo, Sigrid; Orczewska, Anna; Ponette, Quentin; Plue, Jan; Sanczuk, Pieter; Selvi, Federico;
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Global forest cover is heavily fragmented. Due to high edge-to-surface ratios in small forest patches, a large proportion of forests is affected by edge influences involving steep microclimatic gradients. Although forest edges are important ecotones and account for 20% of the global forested area, it remains unclear how biotic and abiotic drivers affect forest edge microclimates at the continental scale. Here we report soil and air temperatures measured in 225 deciduous forest plots across Europe for two years. Forest stands were situated along a latitudinal gradient and subject to a varying vegetation structure as quantified by terrestrial laser scanning. In summer, the average offset of air and soil temperatures in forest edges compared to temperatures outside the forest amounted to -2.8 degrees C and -2.3 degrees C, respectively. Edge-to-interior summer temperature gradients were affected by the macroclimate and edge structure. From the edge onwards, larger offsets were observed in dense forest edges and in warmer, southern regions. In open forests and northern Europe, altered microclimatic conditions extended deeper into the forest and gradients were steeper. Canopy closure and plant area index were important drivers of summer offsets in edges, whereas in winter also the forest-floor biomass played a key role. Using high-resolution maps, we estimated that approximately 10% of the European broadleaved forests would be affected by altered temperature regimes. Gradual transition zones between forest and adjacent lands are valuable habitat types for edge species. However, if cool and moist forest interiors are desired, then (i) dense and complex forest edges, (ii) an undisturbed forested buffer zone of at least 12.5 m deep and (iii) trees with a high shade casting ability could all contribute to an increased offset. These findings provide important guidelines to mitigate edge influences, to protect typical forest microclimates and to adapt forest management to climate change.


Climate change; Edge influence; Forest structure; Fragmentation; Temperate forests; Temperature buffering

Published in

Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
2021, volume: 311, article number: 108699
Publisher: ELSEVIER

Authors' information

Meeussen, Camille
Ghent University
Govaert, Sanne
Ghent University
Vanneste, Thomas
Ghent University
Bollmann, Kurt
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre
Calders, Kim
Ghent University
Cousins, Sara A. O.
Stockholm University
De Pauw, Karen
Ghent University
Diekmann, Martin
University of Bremen
Gasperini, Cristina
Ghent University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre
Hylander, Kristoffer
Stockholm University
Iacopetti, Giovanni
University of Florence
Lenoir, Jonathan
Universite de Picardie Jules Verne (UPJV)
Lindmo, Sigrid
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Orczewska, Anna
University of Silesia in Katowice
Ponette, Quentin
Universite Catholique Louvain
Plue, Jan
Stockholm University
Sanczuk, Pieter
Ghent University
Selvi, Federico
University of Florence
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Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

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