More forests for the Green Deal: passive restoration as a potential management alternative

At CREAF, together with INRAE and the University of Liverpool, we are running a special issue published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on Managing Forest Regeneration and Expansion at a Time of Unprecedented Global Change (Dec 2020), in which the researcher Josep Maria Espelta has taken part as co-editor.  

Passive forest restoration is a potential management alternative
There’s an overwhelming consensus that forests offer fundamental ecosystem services to support biodiversity conservation and mitigate climate change. Image: Josep Maria Espelta

The special edition includes a series of articles on how seriously forests are currently being challenged by local human pressure and global climate change. However, it reveals an overwhelming consensus that forests offer fundamental ecosystem services to support biodiversity conservation and mitigate climate change. The compilation of articles contributes knowledge to the objectives of programs such as the European Green Deal, which pursues to increase the quantity and quality of forests to mitigate these impacts and restore ecosystem biodiversity in the frame of the Europe’s transition towards a CO2-neutral and circular economy.

The high economic costs and potential socio-environmental impacts of large-scale active tree planting programmes point out to passive forest restoration as a potential management alternative in many regions of the world. In addition, approaches based on passive forest regeneration lead to actions that are usually more successful than those using active restoration. Yet, our practical knowledge of how to use the natural regeneration potential of tree populations and communities to promote forest restoration remains incomplete.

The content includes review, research and policy direction articles with the aim of synthesising, deepening and identifying gaps in our understanding of the ecology and functioning of passive forest recovery as a low-cost and nature-based solution to enhance forest regeneration and expansion. According to Josep Maria Espelta, “the articles in this special issue will draw our attention on different evidence-based alternatives and guidelines to increase the success of effective forest management plans”.

The work highlights the following:

• The instrumental role of seed dispersal interactions in enhancing passive tree establishment.

• The fact that these second-growth forests may rapidly attain high levels of functional diversity, while exhibiting increased tree growth as a legacy effect of former land uses.

• The need to consider potential ecosystem disservices (e.g. fire hazards, biotic invasions) associated with the expansion of secondary forests.


The special issue ends with a thorough commentary paper that argues for reconsidering plans for large-scale massive tree planting.

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