Biodiversity strongholds in a tamed landscape: new approaches to locate and conserve the last primary forests in Europe
Convened by: Francesco Maria Sabatini, Tobias Kuemmerle, Miroslav Svoboda
Primary forests are becoming rare as forestland globally is cleared for agriculture or put under active management (1). We here define primary forests as all naturally regenerated forests of native species where there are no clearly visible signs of human activities, and where ecological processes are not significantly disturbed (2). The ongoing loss of such forests represents a major conservation concern, as these forests serve as biodiversity ‘strongholds’ or refugia for rare or endangered species, especially in regions where forests are intensively managed and highly fragmented (3), such as in Europe (4).
Around 5 Mha of primary forest still occur in Europe (excluding Russia), mostly in the boreal zone and in the Carpathians region (2), although much of this forest remains uncharted and therefore unprotected. Data on primary forest distribution are incomplete or inconsistent among European countries, and only recently have researchers aggregated these data into a first continental-scale common database and map of primary forest distribution (5). The conservation outlook of primary forest in Europe is, however, uncertain. Primary forests are being lost at alarming rate, possibly because of rising timber prices and usage, illegal logging, and salvage cutting after bark beetle outbreaks (6). Furthermore, most of the remaining primary forest patches are small and fragmented (5), which makes them potentially prone to extinction debt and human disturbance, even when formally protected.
Against this background, the objectives of the symposium are threefold: 1. Foster novel initiatives aimed at integrating national experiences and new technological solutions to map and protect primary forests in Europe; 2. Critically discuss novel conservation approaches to increase forest resilience and to enhance forest functionality in human-dominated landscapes; and 3. Highlight knowledge and conservation gaps related to primary forests in Europe.
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4. Burrascano S, Keeton WS, Sabatini FM, Blasi C. Commonality and variability in the structural attributes of moist temperate old-growth forests: A global review. For Ecol Manag. 2013;291(0):458-79.
5. Sabatini FM, Burrascano S, Keeton WS, ..., Kuemmerle T. Where are Europe’s last primary forests? Glob Ecol Biogeogr. submitted.
6. Chylarecki P, Selva N. Ancient forest: spare it from clearance. Nature. 2016;530(7591):419-.