Forests of the world in 3D

February 05, 2021

Primeval forests are of great importance for biodiversity and global carbon and water cycling. The three-dimensional structure of forests plays an important role here because it influences processes of gas and energy exchange with the atmosphere, whilst also providing habitats for numerous species. An international research team led by the University of Göttingen has investigated the variety of different complex structures that can be found in the world's forests, as well as the factors that explain this diversity. The results have been published in Nature Communications.

The researchers investigated the structure of primeval forests on several continents in different climate zones. To achieve this, they spent two years travelling to remote primeval forest areas around the world to record the structure of the forests with the help of 3D laser scanners. A laser scanner captures the environment with the help of a laser beam and thus builds a 3D representation of the forest. This allows important metrics to be calculated to describe the structure. They found that the global variability of forest structures can be explained to a large extent by the amount of precipitation and thus by the availability of water in the different ecosystems. Based on these findings and with the help of climate data, they were able to create maps of the world's forests showing the global variability of structural complexity.

The world maps describe the structures that forests can develop free from human influence. Only 30 percent of the world's forests are still primeval forests. "A long-term goal of our research is to better understand how human influence and climate change affect the forest, its structure and the processes linked to it. The structure of primeval forests is an important reference point for this," says first author Dr Martin Ehbrecht from the University of Göttingen. A particular focus here is the question of how changes in precipitation patterns due to climate change affect the structure of forests. "The importance of water for the formation of complex forest structures can be explained by various interacting mechanisms," says Ehbrecht. "The availability of water is an important driver of the diversity of tree species. The more tree species a forest holds, the more pronounced is the coexistence of different crown shapes and sizes of trees. This means that the space available for the crowns of trees can often be utilised more efficiently in species-rich forests, which makes the forest structure more complex."

Tropical rainforests have a more complex structure than the deciduous and coniferous forests found in temperate zones, which are in turn generally more complex in structure than boreal coniferous forests such as those in Scandinavia, or subtropical forest savannahs in Africa. "Nevertheless, forests with high structural complexity can also be found in temperate zones, such as in areas with a high rainfall like the Pacific Northwest of the USA or in coastal forests of Chile," says Professor Ammer, senior author of the study and head of Silviculture and Forest Ecology of Temperate Zones at Göttingen University.

The results of this study are an important starting point for further work. "With the help of satellite-based recording of 3-D forest structure, in the future it will be possible to precisely record the actual complexity of forests," says Ehbrecht. "This will make it possible to better understand the effects of forest management and climate change on the world's forests. Our world maps can serve as an important reference for this."
Original publication: Martin Ehbrecht et al. Global patterns and climatic controls of forest structural complexity. Nature Communications (2021). Doi:

Dr Martin Ehbrecht
University of Göttingen
Silviculture and Forest Ecology of the Temperate Zones
Büsgenweg 1, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

University of Göttingen

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to