Forests’ Shared Struggles: Temperate vs. Tropical

Is French forestry research about to take a turn? Faced with the challenges of climate change, specialists in both temperate and tropical forests are joining forces behind a program of unprecedented scope. Together, they will have eight years to restructure their forestry research community, combining both a global approach to temperate and tropical socio-ecosystems and interdisciplinarity.

FORESTT, for “Forests and global changes: socio-ecological systems in transition”. This is the name of the new Priority Research Program and Equipment (PEPR) which aims to bring together all of French forestry research. Led by INRAE, in collaboration with CIRAD and CNRS, PEPR FORESTT will last eight years and will benefit from a budget of 50 million euros.

“Forestry research is still very compartmentalised by the various disciplines that make it up. It must therefore evolve towards more interdisciplinarity in order to better respond to current challenges, particularly in the face of climate change”. Plinio Sist is director of the Forests and Societies research unit at CIRAD. He and Daniel Barthélemy are CIRAD’s scientific representatives for PEPR FORESTT. The two researchers are convinced of the necessary evolution of their field of research.

“The forest is a socio-ecosystem,” explains Daniel Barthélemy, plant biodiversity expert at CIRAD and director of the “Agriculture, Environment, Biodiversity” center at the University of Montpellier. It forms direct and indirect links with several economic sectors, such as agriculture. It provides crucial environmental services. And beyond these economic and ecological aspects, forests are full of symbolism for our societies. A citizen, a nature protection association and a forestry company, for example, will all perceive a forest area in different and sometimes opposite ways. »

This complexity is still insufficiently touched upon by French forestry research. This is the whole point of PEPR FORESTT: to structure a national community of around 1,250 scientists to develop interdisciplinary approaches. The ambition is to create sustainable management methods capable of coping with the impacts of climate change.

Strengthen the links between temperate and tropical forest management

With an average of 200 tree species per hectare, tropical forests represent very diverse ecosystems. By comparison, temperate forests have between three and fifteen species of trees per hectare. For Plinio Sist, this complexity in the tropics could inspire foresters in the North: “the rich biodiversity of tropical forests is the main pillar of their resilience. These ecosystems are full of information on how we can fight climate change.”

Conversely, tree replanting and varietal selection programs in temperate environments could serve as an example for the restoration of forest landscapes in the South. “Making links, learning from each other and from past experiences” is also one of the added values of this PEPR, repeats the researcher.

Certain problems are also common: in forestry, exploitation concerns only a few species, both in the North and in the South. Temperate and tropical forests would benefit from the development of new commercial species.

Unite to gain weight in Europe and internationally

Aggregation of data and knowledge, long-lasting interdisciplinary collaborations, openness to the tropics: by forming a network, French forestry research is ensuring greater weight on the international scene.

A significant advantage also from the point of view of the European Union, which is currently stepping up its fight against imported deforestation. “Tropical countries will soon have to meet European requirements in terms of sustainable timber exploitation, for example, details Plinio Sist. There will be a role of mediator to be played, which will perhaps be played out by supporting the certification of tropical products exported to European markets. »

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