Forest Ecosystem Services

Forest area has increased in Europe over the last six decades. Today, forests cover nearly 40% of the European surface and are home to much of the continent’s biodiversity. In addition to the supply of wood, to which most forested European land is dedicated, forests provide a multitude of benefits in terms of climate regulation, human health, recreation, refuges, fresh water supply and many others. Nowadays, European forest ecosystems face multiple natural and anthropogenic threats. For instance, a changing climate is producing increased droughts in the Mediterranean; forest disturbances are foreseen to increase (forest fires, invasive pests) and competing socio-economic demands for forest goods and services can result in multiple drivers of forest change.

Forests and biodiversity are strongly interlinked. On the one hand, biodiversity depends to a large extent on the integrity, health and vitality of forested areas. On the other hand, a decrease in forest biodiversity will lead to losses in forest productivity and sustainability. Therefore, sustainable forest management is oriented to support the provision of forest goods and services, and to enhance biodiversity levels.

Enhancing forest biodiversity is one of the main objectives of the EU Forest Strategy. Moreover, the EU has set targets to assess and halt biodiversity loss in its Biodiversity Strategy 2020. In this context, the FOREST activities on forest ecosystem services aim at mapping, assessing, modelling and valuing forest ecosystem goods and services under natural and anthropic threats. Furthermore, they intend to investigate the roles that forests play in eco-industry and bio-economy in a transition to a greener Europe.

Forest ecosystem functions support the provision of ecosystem services to humans. These constitute the direct and indirect contributions of forest ecosystems to human wellbeing. In this context, ecosystem functions are a subset of the interactions between the ecosystem structure and the processes that underpin the capacity of an ecosystem to provide goods and services. Therefore, information and assessments of forest functions and services is of paramount importance for the design and implementation of effective sustainable forest management options and forest related policies at the European level.

The number of goods and services provided by forest is large; a non-exhaustive list is:

  • Wood and non-wood products: e.g. biomass based energy
  • Climate regulation: e.g. C-sequestration
  • Pollution control
  • Soil protection and formation: e.g. erosion control
  • Nutrients cycling
  • Biodiversity protection
  • Water regulation and supply
  • Recreation
  • Disturbance regulation


Current activities on the analysis of forest ecosystem services include:

  • Biophysical mapping and assessment of forest ecosystem services – baseline stock and fluxes;
  • Changes in the provision of forest ecosystem services resulting from forest dynamics, policy and management options, climatic changes and forest disturbances;
  • Economic valuation of forest ecosystem services: current status and future (policy) scenarios;
  • Environmental and economic accounting.

 

Forest ecosystems play a key role in the global carbon cycle. European forests sequester increasing amounts of carbon in tree biomass, each year about 430 million tonnes of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and tree biomass growth in EU countries. In these countries total carbon stock in forest biomass amounts to ~9900 million tonnes. The map shows carbon stored in above-ground forest in Europe. This map is consistent with the IPCC Tier-1 methodology.

Mission

As the science and knowledge service of the European Commission, the Joint Research Centre's mission is to support EU policies with independent evidence throughout the whole policy cycle.