Post written by Hisham Wazeer, Erin Jackson, Sharon Chemweno and Florian Soulard during the SPS-CEPLAS Summer School 2024

Think about how important trees are in your daily life. We heavily rely on trees for food, timber, biodiversity, and fuel. However, climate change is impacting temperature and precipitation patterns that will lead to forest dieback and reshape the distribution of trees across Europe within this century. Recently, scientists investigated the impact of climate change on tree species survival and suitability in current and future climate scenarios. The research team from Austria and Germany mapped the distribution of 69 native species across Europe. They based their studies on the potential of these species to survive today through 2090. The results predicted that only three species have a high potential to thrive and provide multiple ecosystem functions through the century as the next generation of forests. This reduction in viable tree species presents significant challenges to managing forests today and into the future.


Two different datasets were used to map the tree species. The first is a compilation of field observations of the tree species with data on the presence and coordinates of each. Only the species that appeared with more than 50 occurrences were kept, resulting in 69 species. The second dataset is a meteorological dataset for three time periods: 2020-2029 (current climate), 2030-2039, and 2090-2099 (future climate). The meteorological dataset was constructed with reliable historical data based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and the most recent European climate models. With those datasets, a predictive map was created.

Ecosystem Function / Bottleneck

The research predicted a significant reduction in tree species that can survive and provide functions in Europe during the 21st-century due climate change effects. Tree species were considered for their ability to provide three primary ecosystem functions: timber production, carbon storage, and biodiversity function. Out of the 69 specific species analyzed, 36%, 27%, and 21% were highly valuable for timber production, carbon uptake and storage, and habitat value, respectively. The number of high-potential species for these functions available for forest management per square kilometer was quantified, considering climate suitability throughout the 21st century. Multifunctional forests were also assessed by evaluating the area where at least two species could significantly contribute to all three management objectives. When considering the ability to contribute to all three forest functions simultaneously, only three species (Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur, and Quercus petraea) had high potential. This creates a bottleneck in available species to plant in European forests, as those suitable for ecosystem function in the current and future climate are much lower than all of the potential species.

Forest policy and management implementation 

The tree species bottleneck presents substantial challenges for European forest management. Considering only the species climatically suitable in today’s climate is not a viable option, as many of the species will not survive and provide necessary ecosystem services in the future climate. In contrast, many of the species that will provide these services in 2090 will not thrive if planted in today’s climate. This is a 43.6% reduction in the land area available for forest management for multiple ecosystem functions (timber production, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation). To reach these goals, forest management will require shorter planning periods and greater adaptability so that new species can be integrated in response to the most current climatic conditions.By intentionally selecting species resilient to climate change, forests will better withstand extreme weather events while continuing to provide critical services for ecological, economic and social well-being.

Image: Tree, Trunk, Roots image. Credit: DaveMeier / Pixabay


  1. Wessely J, Essl F, Fiedler K, Gattringer A, Hülber B, Ignateva O, Moser D, Rammer W, Dullinger S, Seidl R. 2024. A climate-induced tree species bottleneck for forest management in Europe. Nature ecology & evolution, 8(6), 1109–1117.
  2. Mauri A, Strona G, San-Miguel-Ayanz J. 2017. EU-Forest, a high-resolution tree occurrence dataset for Europe. Scientific data, 4, 160123.