Branches of oak

SEK 15.5 million to study the role of the Swedish oak in the climate transition

A research group at Linnaeus University has received SEK 15.5 million in funding from Formas for a research project on oak forest ecosystems in southern Sweden. The aim is to study whether and how different oak species can contribute to future forests with increased biodiversity that are better suited to meet the challenges that come with the ongoing climate change, compared to the spruce and pine stands of today.

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It is Markus Franzén, Johanna Sunde, Anders Forsman, Anna Monrad Jensen and Johan Kroon from Linnaeus University, together with researchers from Linköping University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Lund University, who have now been granted funding for an entirely new research project.

During the coming four years, the project, called ‘Adaptation to changes: Emerging forest ecosystems in a changing climate’, will compile current knowledge about the distribution of oak forest and its expansion, and study what opportunities and potential threats linked to climate changes that come with an oak-based forestry.

The forestry industry is bleeding economically
Oak forests are important production forests with high biodiversity and their suitable climate zone is rapidly being pushed further north. At the same time, the spruce-dominated forestry in southern Sweden suffers from increased costs in the wake of dry summers, diseases, and pests.

“We must learn more about how the ecosystems are affected by and adapt to the challenges associated with climate change. We can see that the changes today happen much faster than we thought. To contribute with new knowledge about species-rich, climate-adapted forest ecosystems is very important for the future”, says research director Markus Franzén, associate professor of ecology at the Department of Biology and Environmental Science at Linnaeus University.

The project will collect new genetic and ecological environmental data from oak stands in southern Sweden and study three different oak species that grow both in natural forests and in oak breeding forests.

“An important question that we want to answer is to what extent the genetic variation within and between different forest stands affects resilience and is able to buffer against environmental changes, such as extreme weather and pest infestations”, explains Anders Forsman, professor of evolutionary ecology.

Markus Franzén also stresses the importance of increasing the knowledge about how an increased element of different oak species in the forestry of the future can contribute to a more climate-adapted and sustainable forestry. Another line of investigation is to evaluate whether the exotic tree species red oak (Quercus rubra) can be a possible supplement to common oak (Quercus robur) and sessile oak (Quercus petraea).

Knowledge to the benefit of biodiversity
The researchers hope that the knowledge generated by the project will play a crucial role in the shaping of a long-term, sustainable, climate-adapted, and expanding oak forestry that both benefits production and promotes biodiversity.

“This is a very comprehensive and ambitious project. That we have managed to gather a group of researchers with different and complementary expertise hopefully means that we will be able to contribute with both new and important knowledge”, says Anders Forsman.

“That Formas decided to fund this project is very pleasing and I’m very glad that I get to work on this project. It means that we can focus on conducting research on Sweden’s future forests in an entirely unique way and hopefully contribute to a future forest that is biologically more diverse and better adapted to a changing climate”, Markus Franzén concludes.

The SEK 15.5 million grant goes under the framework of Formas’ decision to fund nine new research projects with a total of SEK 141 million in the Call for proposals Den svenska skogens roll i klimatomställningen [The role of the Swedish forest in the climate transition].