Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences | Geography Department | Biogeography | News | Forst transitions and carbon budgets in the former Soviet Union

Forst transitions and carbon budgets in the former Soviet Union

When forest transitions, the shift from net deforestation to net forest increase, happened has important implications for carbon budgets. A new paper in Global Change Biology, led by Tobias Kuemmerle, highlights that forest transitions in European Russia happened later and forest recovery was slower than previously appreciated. Moreover, the intensity of and use already 200 years ago may have been much higher than previously thought. Together, this suggest a high potential for increased carbon sequestration in European Russia.

Forest transitions in Eastern Europe and their effects on carbon budgets

Tobias Kuemmerle | Jed O. Kaplan | Alexander V. Prishchepov | Ilya Rylsky | Oleh Chaskovskyy | Vladimir S. Tikunov | Daniel Müller


Forests often rebound from deforestation following industrialization and urbanization, but for many regions our understanding of where and when forest transitions happened, and how they affected carbon budgets remains poor. One such region is Eastern Europe, where political and socio-economic conditions changed drastically over the last three centuries, but forest trends have not yet been analyzed in detail. We present a new assessment of historical forest change in the European part of the former Soviet Union and the legacies of these changes on contemporary carbon stocks. To reconstruct forest area, we homogenized statistics at the provincial level for ad 1700–2010 to identify forest transition years and forest trends. We contrast our reconstruction with the KK11 and HYDE 3.1 land change scenarios, and use all three datasets to drive the LPJ dynamic global vegetation model to calculate carbon stock dynamics. Our results revealed that forest transitions in Eastern Europe occurred predominantly in the early 20th century, substantially later than in Western Europe. We also found marked geographic variation in forest transitions, with some areas characterized by relatively stable or continuously declining forest area. Our data suggest extensive deforestation in European Russia already prior to ad 1700, and even greater deforestation in the 18th and 19th centuries than in the KK11 and HYDE scenarios. Based on our reconstruction, cumulative carbon emissions from deforestation were greater before 1700 (60 Pg C) than thereafter (29 Pg C). Summed over our entire study area, forest transitions led to a modest uptake in carbon over recent decades, with our dataset showing the smallest effect (<5.5 Pg C) and a more heterogeneous pattern of source and sink regions. This suggests substantial sequestration potential in regrowing forests of the region, a trend that may be amplified through ongoing land abandonment, climate change, and CO2 fertilizatio


Link to the manuscript: DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12897

Citation: Kuemmerle, T., Kaplan, J.E., Prishchepov, A.V., Rylskyy, I., Chaskovskyy, O., Tikunov, V.S., & Müller, D. (2015): Forest transitions in Eastern Europe and their effects on carbon budgets. Global Change Biology, 21, 3049–3061.