THE University of Stirling will lead a new £800,000 interdisciplinary study designed to predict and monitor the response of European forests to drought and temperature change.

The ForeSight project will anticipate how forests will be adversely impacted as the climate warms and becomes more extreme, hampering tree growth, and causing dieback and mortality.

Professor Alistair Jump, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Stirling, will lead the study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and involving colleagues at Durham University, Forest Research, the Technische Universität Dresden and the Technical University of Munich.

“More intense drought and increased temperatures reduce tree growth and drive tree dieback and mortality across the globe,” explained Professor Jump. “While this problem has been recognised for some time, the processes and geographical extent of forest growth reduction and die-off are not well understood.

“Predicting the response of Europe’s forests to drought and temperature change is a key challenge because forests have enormous economic and ecological benefits that will be impacted as climate warms and becomes more extreme.

“This new funding will allow us to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to address these issues by predicting and monitoring drought-linked forest growth decline across the continent.”

Biological and Environmental Sciences at Stirling will receive £526,000 under the new project, which will focus on European beech – the most widespread broadleaf tree in Europe, covering more than 15 million hectares. Beech produces valuable wood and fibre, which is used diversely and is known to be at high risk from drought-linked dieback and mortality.

The research will link satellite observations and process-based models calibrated from a data network that provides a detailed picture of tree growth from about 10,000 trees across 25 countries. The data will enable the team to model the processes and extent of tree growth suppression and to map and monitor drought-stress vulnerability across the entire range of beech in near real-time. New tools developed in the project will support forward planning for UK forest management.

Professor Jump added: “This work will contribute major new scientific insights into forest growth reduction and die-off in response to drought, with substantial benefits for improving our understanding of impacts on our ecosystems and atmosphere.”