Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Are forest disturbances amplifying or canceling out climate change-induced productivity changes in European forests?

Reyer, Christopher P. O.;Bathgate, Stephen;Blennow, Kristina;Borges, Jose G.;Bugmann, Harald;Delzon, Sylvain;Faias, Sonia P.;Garcia-Gonzalo, Jordi;Gardiner, Barry;Ramon Gonzalez-Olabarria, Jose;Gracia, Carlos;Hernandez, Juan Guerra;Kellomaki, Seppo;Kramer, Koen;Lexer, Manfred J.;Lindner, Marcus;van der Maaten, Ernst;Maroschek, Michael;Muys, Bart;Nicoll, Bruce;
Show more authors


Recent studies projecting future climate change impacts on forests mainly consider either the effects of climate change on productivity or on disturbances. However, productivity and disturbances are intrinsically linked because 1) disturbances directly affect forest productivity (e.g. via a reduction in leaf area, growing stock or resource-use efficiency), and 2) disturbance susceptibility is often coupled to a certain development phase of the forest with productivity determining the time a forest is in this specific phase of susceptibility. The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of forest productivity changes in different forest regions in Europe under climate change, and partition these changes into effects induced by climate change alone and by climate change and disturbances. We present projections of climate change impacts on forest productivity from state-of-the-art forest models that dynamically simulate forest productivity and the effects of the main European disturbance agents (fire, storm, insects), driven by the same climate scenario in seven forest case studies along a large climatic gradient throughout Europe. Our study shows that, in most cases, including disturbances in the simulations exaggerate ongoing productivity declines or cancel out productivity gains in response to climate change. In fewer cases, disturbances also increase productivity or buffer climate-change induced productivity losses, e.g. because low severity fires can alleviate resource competition and increase fertilization. Even though our results cannot simply be extrapolated to other types of forests and disturbances, we argue that it is necessary to interpret climate change-induced productivity and disturbance changes jointly to capture the full range of climate change impacts on forests and to plan adaptation measures.


fire; forest models; forest productivity-disturbances-climate change interactions; insects; storms; trade-offs

Published in

Environmental Research Letters

2017, volume: 12, number: 3, article number: 034027

Authors' information

Reyer, Christopher
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Hanewinkel, Marc
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)
Show more authors

Associated SLU-program

SLU Network Plant Protection

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science
Climate Research

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)