Articles | Volume 12, issue 14
Research article
23 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 23 Jul 2015

Reconstructing European forest management from 1600 to 2010

M. J. McGrath, S. Luyssaert, P. Meyfroidt, J. O. Kaplan, M. Bürgi, Y. Chen, K. Erb, U. Gimmi, D. McInerney, K. Naudts, J. Otto, F. Pasztor, J. Ryder, M.-J. Schelhaas, and A. Valade

Abstract. Because of the slow accumulation and long residence time of carbon in biomass and soils, the present state and future dynamics of temperate forests are influenced by management that took place centuries to millennia ago. Humans have exploited the forests of Europe for fuel, construction materials and fodder for the entire Holocene. In recent centuries, economic and demographic trends led to increases in both forest area and management intensity across much of Europe. In order to quantify the effects of these changes in forests and to provide a baseline for studies on future land-cover–climate interactions and biogeochemical cycling, we created a temporally and spatially resolved reconstruction of European forest management from 1600 to 2010. For the period 1600–1828, we took a supply–demand approach, in which supply was estimated on the basis of historical annual wood increment and land cover reconstructions. We made demand estimates by multiplying population with consumption factors for construction materials, household fuelwood, industrial food processing and brewing, metallurgy, and salt production. For the period 1829–2010, we used a supply-driven backcasting method based on national and regional statistics of forest age structure from the second half of the 20th century. Our reconstruction reproduces the most important changes in forest management between 1600 and 2010: (1) an increase of 593 000 km2 in conifers at the expense of deciduous forest (decreasing by 538 000 km2); (2) a 612 000 km2 decrease in unmanaged forest; (3) a 152 000 km2 decrease in coppice management; (4) a 818 000 km2 increase in high-stand management; and (5) the rise and fall of litter raking, which at its peak in 1853 resulted in the removal of 50 Tg dry litter per year.

Short summary
Studying century-scale ecological processes and their legacy effects requires taking forest management into account. In this study we produce spatially and temporally explicit maps of European forest management from 1600 to 2010. The most important changes between 1600 and 2010 are an increase of 593 000km2 in conifers at the expense of deciduous forest, a 612 000km2 decrease in unmanaged forest, a 152 000km2 decrease in coppice management and a 818 000km2 increase in high stand management.
Final-revised paper