Research article

Assessing future suitability of tree species under climate change by multiple methods: a case study in southern Germany

Helge Walentowski , Wolfgang Falk, Tobias Mette, Jörg Kunz, Achim Bräuning, Cathrin Meinardus, Christian Zang, Laura M.E. Sutcliffe, Christoph Leuschner

Helge Walentowski
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, Faculty of Resource Management, Büsgenweg 1a, 37077 Göttingen, Germany. Email: helge.walentowski@hawk-hhg.de
Wolfgang Falk
Bavarian Forestry Institute LWF, Department of Soil and Climate, Hans-Carl-von-Carlowitz-Platz 1, 85354 Freising & Institute of Geoecology, Dept. of Environmental System Analysis, TU Braunschweig, Langer Kamp 19c, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
Tobias Mette
Institute of Geoecology, Department of Environmental System Analysis, TU Braunschweig, Langer Kamp 19c, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
Jörg Kunz
Department of Silviculture, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, Albert-Ludwig-University Freiburg, Tennenbacherstraße 4, 79106 Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany
Achim Bräuning
Institute of Geography, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Wetterkreuz 15, 91058 Erlangen, Germany
Cathrin Meinardus
Institute of Geography, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Wetterkreuz 15, 91058 Erlangen, Germany
Christian Zang
Land Surface-Atmosphere Interactions, Technical University of Munich, Hans-Carl-von-Carlowitz-Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
Laura M.E. Sutcliffe
Department of Plant Ecology and Ecosystem Research, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Christoph Leuschner
Department of Plant Ecology and Ecosystem Research, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Untere Karspüle 2, 37073 Göttingen, Germany

Online First: May 02, 2017
Walentowski, H., Falk, W., Mette, T., Kunz, J., Bräuning, A., Meinardus, C., Zang, C., Sutcliffe, L., Leuschner, C. 2017. Assessing future suitability of tree species under climate change by multiple methods: a case study in southern Germany. Annals of Forest Research DOI:10.15287/afr.2016.789


We compared results derived using three different approaches to assess the suitability of common tree species on the Franconian Plateau in southern Germany under projected warmer and drier climate conditions in the period 2061-2080. The study area is currently a relatively warm and dry region of Germany. We calculated species distribution models (SDMs) using information on species’ climate envelopes to predict regional species spectra under 63 different climate change scenarios. We complemented this with fine-scale ecological niche analysis using data from 51 vegetation surveys in seven forest reserves in the study area, and tree-ring analysis (TRA) from local populations of five tree species to quantify their sensitivity to climatic extreme years. The SDMs showed that predicted future climate change in the region remains within the climate envelope of certain species (e.g. Quercus petraea), whilst for e.g. Fagus sylvatica, future climate conditions in one third of the scenarios are too warm and dry. This was confirmed by the TRA: sensitivity to drought periods is lower for Q. petraea than for F. sylvatica. The niche analysis shows that the local ecological niches of Quercus robur and Fraxinus excelsior are mainly characterized by soils providing favorable water supply than by climate, and Pinus sylvestris (planted) is strongly influenced by light availability. The best adapted species for a warmer and potentially drier climate in the study region are Acer campestre, Sorbus torminalis, S. aria, Ulmus minor, and Tilia platyphyllos, which should therefore play a more prominent role in future climate-resilient mixed forest ecosystems.


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