How Important are Forest Genetics for Urban Forests? – A Report from the LIFEGENMON Parallel Session

The LIFE LIFEGENMON is an European project for the development of a forest genetic monitoring system. Selected monitoring sites for European beech and Silver fir are located in Germany, Greece and Slovenia. The project staff presented their relevant practical experiences and findings to participants of 19th European Forum on Urban Forestry in a parallel session at the Ljubljana Castle on June 1st 2016.

The first speaker was the project coordinator, Prof. Dr. Hojka Kraigher from the Slovenian Forestry Institute. She opened the session of EFUF 2016 with a brief theoretical explanation of forest genetics and concluded the presentation of the LIFEGENMON project. She explained that genetic diversity level is the basis for all higher levels of biodiversity (species, ecosystem) and that forest genetic resources are threatened by several factors, the most important of which is climate change. She also highlighted the work of the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN).

Prof. Dr. Hojka Kraigher: “Genetic diversity is the basic level of all biodiversity (species, ecosystem).”

The second presentation was more specific – Domen Finžgar (Slovenian Forestry Institute) gave a very interesting lecture about the use of UAV (drones) in forestry. He is a part of the multidisciplinary team that developed the prototype of LUCANUS, a remotely controlled drone for collecting samples in tree canopies and stated that: “Drone sampling is not science-fiction, but possible fiction. It is an unique, cost-effective, precise and safe tool.” This contribution will certainly aid to remote data sensing techniques.

Dr. Marjana Westergren discussed the importance of forest genetics for (peri)-urban woodlands and emphasized that if we want urban forest to thrive and be resilient, we have to use our knowledge of forest genetics. That means that we need to ensure sufficient gene flow in urban forests by collecting diverse seed for sowing and planting. Genetic monitoring might be especially important in (peri)-urban forests as an early warning system of changes that are about to happen at the ecosystem level.

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Dr. Marjana Westergren: “If we want urban forest to thrive and be resilient, we have to use our knowledge of forest genetics!”

To close the session, Dr. Evangelia Avramidou from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece) presented how trees, growing in polluted metropolitan areas of Thessaloniki, showed different phenotypic response to urban environment stresses. She stated that forest genetic monitoring is crucial for future forest ecosystem protection and is invaluable tool for sustainable forest management.

To a casual observer, the LIFEGENMON project might not have much in common with urban forestry. But after a closer look, the existing knowledge and research in the field of forest genetics can really help us understand how trees, exposed to an array of abiotic and biotic stresses in (fragmented) forest ecosystems in urbanized areas, can adapt, be more resilient and survive in the future.

Authors: Janez Kermavnar, Boris Rantaša

Monitoring of Urban Forests – LIFE+ EMoNFUr

The benefits of urban forests for citizens and the most important results of the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project are introduced by our invited blogger Dr. Urša Vilhar, research fellow at the Forest Ecology Department of the Slovenian Forestry Institute.

Forest, trees, parks and other green areas in urban landscapes are the irreplaceable part of the nature and our environment and especially important for citizens. Urban forests are important because they provide direct contact with nature to citizens, peace, relaxation, aesthetics and in Slovenia they are frequently visited for recreation. At the same time urban forests provide a great deal of ecosystem services that play an important role at insuring the health and improving the citizens’ quality of life. Namely, urban forests filter air, protect water quality, reduce soil erosion etc. In addition, trees and soils store carbon and reduce concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But the climate changes reduce the ability of urban forests to provide these benefits for the environment and people.

The most important results of LIFE+ EMoNFUr

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In the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project a monitoring network was established to assess lowland forests in Milan (Italy) and Ljubljana (Slovenia). Monitoring of urban forests was set up at five study areas in Milan and two in Slovenia during a 3-year period.

A network of permanent plots for monitoring urban forests was established in Milan and Ljubljana. The inventory of urban and peri-urban forests was preformed in Milan. Researchers from the Slovenian Forestry Institute assessed diversity of selected plant and animal species, monitored insects and diseases of forest trees and their health status in Ljubljana’s urban forests. They have also analyzed soil pollution, monitored visits to the urban forest, assessed air pollution, analyzed tree growth, assessed forest inventory, estimated carbon stocks in trees and forest soils, monitored water quality and quantity from forested watershed, etc.

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A part of the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project monitoring network in the Landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib for monitoring urban forests. The Forest inventory revealed that 1 hectare of urban forest on average sequestrated 138 tonnes of carbon in above ground, below ground and dead wood biomass.

The results have shown that:

  • Tree health is especially important in urban areas – diseased or injured trees can pose threat to humans and property.
  • Urban forests sustain the quality of drinking water sources and have a large capacity for retaining excess stormwater and melting snow.
  • Forest soils in Ljubljana have proved to be well preserved and represent one of the cleanest environments in Ljubljana.
  • In urban forests, the air temperatures during the heat wave are appreciably lower than in the urban center.
  • the diversity of plant and animal species is an important indicator of biodiversity in the urban forest
  • At the same time urban forests serve as natural filter for pollutants, while in average 1 hectare of urban forest binds 138 tons of carbon.

The most important EMoNFUr project results are the online guidelines and the Protocol for monitoring urban forests, which can be used by any city in Europe and around the world. The documents include a wide range of recommendations and criteria for detailed descriptions of ecological, environmental and social values of urban forests.

Dr. Urša Vilhar, Slovenian Forestry Institute

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Acknowledgement: the  LIFE+ EMoNFUr project was financially supported by the European Commission’s LIFE – Financial Instrument for the Environment.