Resilience of Spanish forests to recent droughts and climate change

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Coomes, DA 

A widespread increase in forest cover is underway in northern Mediterranean forests because of land abandonment and decreased wood demand, but the resilience of these successional forests to climate change remains unresolved. Here we use 18-year time series of canopy greenness—that is, NDVI data derived from satellite imagery—to evaluate the impacts of climate change on Spain's forests. Specifically, we analyzed how NDVI was influenced by the climatic water balance (i.e. Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index, SPEI), using monthly time-series extracted from 3,100 pixels of forest, categorized into ten forest types. The forests increased in leaf area index by 0.01 per year on average (from 1.7 in 2000 to 1.9 in 2017) but there was enormous variation among years related to climatic water balance. Forest types varied in response to drought events: those dominated by drought-avoiding species showed strong covariance between greenness and SPEI, while those dominated by drought-tolerant species showed weak covariance. Native forests usually recovered more than 80% of greenness within the 18 months and the remainder within 5 years, but plantations of Eucalyptus were less resilient. Management to increase the resilience of forests—a key goal of forestry in the Mediterranean region—appears to have had a positive effect: canopy greenness within protected forests was more resilient to drought than within non-protected forests. In conclusion, many of Spain's successional forests have been resilient to drought over the past 18 years, from the perspective of space. Future studies will need to combine remote sensing with field-based analyses of physiological tolerances and mortality processes to understand how Mediterranean forests will respond to the rapid climate change predicted for this region in the coming decades.

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Global Change Biology
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Cambridge Trust Fund
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