HoliSoils partners preparing numerous products in project’s penultimate year 

The HoliSoils project annual meeting gave consortium partners and stakeholder representatives the chance to discuss HoliSoils’ results and potential products in detail. 

HoliSoils is already in its penultimate year, and this year’s gathering brought into focus the depth of work being carried out in the project, from soil and forest management strategies, biophysical research linked to disturbance and to microbiological processes, to modelling, data and monitoring frameworks for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  

A detailed session focused on the various maps being developed through the project, and how the wealth of information will be accessible to potential end users. 

Two poster sessions allowed participants to dive more deeply into the research being carried out in the project. Many of the project’s post docs shared their work on specific research questions, and there was a second session focussing on experimental studies being carried out at the project’s test sites around Europe, as well as at the one from Uruguay. 

The HoliSoils Stakeholder and End-user Advisory Board (SEAB) has been instrumental in helping partners consider how different stakeholder groups in the project might use their findings and results. Their active engagement has made a real difference and in the dedicated panel session at this year’s meeting, the ten members who participated (nine in person and one online!) did not disappoint, sharing useful insights, critical questions and offering valuable advice in a fruitful conversation with the consortium. 


The consortium and SEAB members were also treated to two extremely interesting field excursions, the first to witness experiments being carried out on a peatland GHG site, the second to visit Kranzberg drought experiments in planted forests of spruce and beech, where one of the HoliSoils test sites is located. 

The fruits of all this labour will become available as results are published, via publications, web portals, updated modelling tools and recommendations for policy and practice. The challenge now and until the end of the project is to make sure that HoliSoils products reach as many people as possible so that all its stakeholders can benefit. 

Stay up to date with HoliSoils products as they become available: the HoliSoils toolkit is continuously updated and our repository in Zenodo already has many papers, with more added as they come out! 


Time to get serious about forest soil

HoliSoils researcher at work.

Originally published in Publico.es in Spanish.

European legislation on forests and climate and the forthcoming legislation on soil quality place particular emphasis on the importance of the soils that support our forests. These soils store more carbon and biodiversity than the trees they feed and are full of water and nutrients that provide a myriad of services. The European Union warns that, in general, degraded soils reduce the provision of ecosystem services such as food, timber, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pest control or water regulation – a loss that costs the EU billions of euros every year. After the degradation of urban, industrial and agricultural soils, forests can be a lifeline against impacts such as climate change.

In the forests of Gamiz, a council of the city of Vitoria (Álava) located in the foothills of the Vitoria Mountains, work is being carried out as part of what is considered “the largest research project in Europe on the central, though little understood, role of forest soils in the fight against climate change”. This is what is stated in HoliSoils, an acronym for Holistic management practices, modelling & monitoring for European forest soils, a project of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme in which 20 European universities and research centres are participating, including four Spanish ones.

The work being carried out in Gamiz includes that done by Jorge Curiel, the principal researcher in Spain at HoliSoils, who also leads the working group dedicated to the vulnerability of soils to climate change. He stops for a moment to talk to us: “We have three plots with a common design where we test, on the one hand, how different types of wood extraction affect the soil, such as 50% thinning and clear-cutting – cutting down all the trees in a forest area – and, on the other, how we can accelerate soil recovery with two treatments: in one we leave the soil bare and in the other we use the remains of the cutting, which are broken up and spread to create a layer that protects it and accelerates its recovery”.

An important part of this work is to analyse the carbon sequestration achieved by forest management taking into account different soil treatments. Forest soils store more carbon than trees, thanks to the combined action of dead wood, litter and the innumerable associated fauna, flora, and fungal communities, including other important micro-organisms such as protists, bacteria, and archaea.

Forest soils: champions of carbon sequestration

Gonzalo Almendros, research professor at the Department of Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology of the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN/CSIC), highlights this value in figures: “In general, soils contain 2,500 petagrams of carbon (one petagram is equivalent to one thousand trillion grams), that is, more than three times the amount of atmospheric carbon and four times the amount stored in the biomass of plants and animals. Therefore, the interest in forest soils lies in the fact that they constitute a reservoir of carbon in slowly biodegradable forms, which is not actively exchanged with CO2 in the atmosphere”.

But there is a risk that climate change will accelerate this loss of soil carbon, as Pablo García-Palacios, a scientist at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas at the Instituto de Ciencias Agrarias (ICA-CSIC), pointed out in a study published in June 2021 in the journal Nature: “Until now, the size of the carbon pool has been balanced annually between carbon losses from soil respiration and gains from carbon fixation by plants. However, anthropogenic warming is disturbing this balance”.

HoliSoils, like other European projects working in the same direction (DrySom, Benchmark, Atlantis, etc.), seeks to halt the loss of valuable forest soil, which is why not only research centres are involved in it, but also associations of forest owners, the European Environment Agency, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the FSC forest certification seal. Dozens of forest plots in various countries with different climates, tree species and management are serving as test laboratories.

Undergrowth in Peñacaballera, Sierra de Béjar, Salamanca. Photo: Javier Rico.

Every soil is a world

Each soil is different depending on all these factors: climate, altitude, trees, type of management, slope… There is nothing like taking a look at some of the almost 2,900 entries on the blog Un universo bajo nuestros pies (A universe beneath our feet) to make sure of this. It is the work of Juan José Ibáñez, senior scientist at the Desertification Research Centre (CSIC-University of Valencia), who constantly repeats that “soil is a very fragile and non-renewable resource”. There are soils dominated by leaf litter, in others by the herbaceous stratum, in others by scrub, and in some there is more moss, or rocky and stony ground, or a bit of everything. Ibañez even claims the value of dead wood: “The fall of a tree is essential for the maintenance of the dynamics of forest ecosystems and their soils”.

In this variety of soils and their composition also lies the ability to adapt to impacts such as those induced by climate change. Ana Rey, MNCN/CSIC scientist and expert in forest ecology, says: “Preliminary results of a study we are carrying out in Mediterranean forests on different types of soils indicate that forests with soils that are in principle more unfavourable seem to be less susceptible to drought, because they have already developed an adaptation to extreme conditions. Therefore, although they grow less, they are more resilient”. According to Jorge Curiel, “in the Iberian Peninsula, the most fragile forests are on steeper slopes, with more erosion potential, which increases depending on the type of management they have”.


Curiel is also a research professor at one of the centres participating in HoliSoils, the BC3 (Basque Centre for Climate Change). He says that all the work carried out (types of felling, soil treatments, placement of sensors, analysis of carbon sequestration, inventory of organisms, measurement of soil health parameters) “serves, first, to generate evidence that what is being done so far is not correct and, second, to generate more responsible management practices focused on soil conservation”.

Time to get serious about forest soil

Raisa Mäkipää, coordinator of HoliSoils and research professor at the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, stresses: “Soils really matter, but they have not been studied enough, especially forest soils. By learning more about how they trap and release CO2, countries can help ensure that their forests can adapt to and mitigate climate change”.

In the meantime, the EU has also got down to work. On 5 July 2023, the European Commission (EC) presented the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on soil monitoring and soil resilience. The main objective is to achieve a healthy state of EU soils by 2050. It recognises that soil degradation costs us tens of billions of euros per year by affecting basic ecosystem services that provide important economic benefits: food, timber, carbon sequestration, pest control, erosion control, etc.

The variety of soils and their composition also determines the capacity of forests to adapt to impacts such as those induced by climate change. Photo: Javier Rico.

Without departing from the economic line, the proposed directive mentions: “The availability of healthy and fertile soils and land is crucial for the transition to a sustainable bioeconomy and can therefore help to increase and preserve land values”. In an article in The Conversation, Jorge Curiel and four other BC3 researchers stress that “the bioeconomy should take into account forest soil conservation”, but he warns: “We cannot expect the bioeconomy to cover all the production and business niches that are currently covered by other materials such as concrete or petroleum derivatives because, like these, natural resources are not infinite”.

One of the mainstays of the forest bioeconomy is the extraction of biomass for energy production. The Spanish Biomass Association (Avebiom) they state: “The companies that carry out works of exploitation and extraction of this biomass must comply with the requirements imposed by the EU Renewable Energy Directive, and they are doing so, many of them with the help of the European certification system SURE (Sustainable Resources Verification Scheme)”. In addition, they consider that removing biomass from forests for energy recovery “contributes to increasing the resilience of our forests to increasingly dangerous forest fires and climate change. Keeping the destructive power of fires and forest stress at bay is also a way of caring for soils and biodiversity”.

No planting for planting’s sake

Ana Rey considers how we should deal with reforestation very important: “When we talk about reforestation, about planting trees, we must remember that a forest is not just trees, because sometimes we ignore the complexity of forests and the many ecosystem services they provide, including the great importance of the soil. We have to take into account the type of soil we plant in and the species we plant”. Almendros stresses: “Each situation has to be studied separately, taking into account climate, soil type and the quality of pre-existing organic matter.”

Much remains to be done. The EC itself, in its proposal for a directive on soil monitoring and resilience, estimates: “More than 60% of European soils are unhealthy and scientific evidence shows that they are being further degraded due to unsustainable land management, pollution and overexploitation, combined with the impact of climate change and extreme weather events”.

Webinar: Forests in changing climate

Finnish forest

Details

Friday 22 March 2024

9.00 am – 12:30 pm (EET, Helsinki time)

Online: Microsoft Teams

Organisers

Natural Resources Institute Finland
Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute (FFPRI)

Description

On 22 March this HoliSoils webinar will offer engaging discussions on current research topics relating to forests growth, greenhouse gas exchange, ecosystem services and climate change by researchers from Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, FFPRI (Japan) and Natural Resources Institute Finland, Luke (Finland).

The webinar will include insightful segments on:

  • Luke and the HoliSoils project (Aleksi Lehtonen)
  • Topographically high-resolution mapping of catchment-scale soil carbon dioxide and methane fluxes using machine learning analysis with the DEM-derived covariates (Shoji Hashimoto)
  • Drought response of the boreal forest carbon sink is driven by understorey–tree composition (Martínez García Eduardo)
  • Assessment of climate mitigation pathways for shrinking and aging tree plantations in Japan – Simulated synergies and trade-offs between carbon removal and other forest ecosystem services (Jumpei Toriyama)
  • Environment-induced growth changes in forests of Finland revisited – a follow-up using an extended data set from the 1960s to the 2020s (Harri Mäkinen)
  • Challenges in Distinguishing Between Biotic and Abiotic Soil Enzyme Activities (Taiki Mori)
  • The high climate benefits return of peat preservation policies (Lorenzo Menichetti)

Click here to join the webinar!

Career Opportunity in Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology at the University of Helsinki

people working

The Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki is seeking applications for the position of Professor or Assistant/Associate Professor in Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology.

The candidate is expected to have a strong track record in the field of terrestrial ecosystem ecology and to be committed to excellence in research, research training and undergraduate education.

The deadline for applications is 29 February 2024.

Find out all the details about this opportunity!

Become Luke’s new Principal Scientist in forest soil science

Mushroom in a forest

HoliSoils’ project coordinator Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) is looking for a Principal Scientist to strengthen soil research in the institute. The selected candidate will work to develop and lead Luke’s research on carbon and nutrient cycling processes in forest soils on mineral soil sites, and how these processes are controlled.

The research will focus on soil carbon and nutrient cycling processes, nutrient availability, and organic matter quality. The objective is to better understand the linkages between these factors, and their significance both for the biomass production of forest ecosystems and for the environmental and climate impacts. The main focus should be on the response of soil processes and properties to forest management in changing environment and climate.

The position of Principal Scientist is permanent. The tasks include planning and leading research projects and working in those, as well as developing both field and laboratory methods connected to the research topics. The Principal Scientist is expected to publish at international scientific level, acquire research funding and be active in both national and international collaboration networks.

The deadline for applications is 23 February 2024, 16:00 Finnish time.

Read all the details on this opportunity & discover how to apply!

Postdoc opportunity in Microbial Ecology of Forest Soils

Mushrooms in a forest.

The Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology of the Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences is looking for a motivated postdoctoral fellow to join the international consortium of HoliSoils, an H2020 project that explores the effects of forest management on ecosystem processes such as greenhouse gas fluxes, C storage and biodiversity preservation. The selected candidate will be involved in the study of the structural and functional response of the soil microbiome to forest management, disturbances and global change across Europe and will have the opportunity to collaborate with leading groups in this research field.

Read all the details about this position and find out how to apply!

Take a walk in the Saxon forest… and discover forest soil test experiments!

In the Eisenstraßenmoor in Saxony, Germany, forest visitors now have access to information about peatlands and can discover one of the  HoliSoils test sites. “The Eisenstraßenmoor used to be a drained bog. This means that centuries ago, the foresters simply drained the water and directed it away from the bog to make the area suitable for tree growth and timber production”, says Clemens Weiser, head of the local forest enterprise. “This deteriorated the condition of the bog, causing the entire peat body to decay. As a result, significant CO2 emissions occurred due to the dryness, similar to how a compost pile at home decomposes.” Clemens and HoliSoils partner Cornelius Oertel and his team from The Thünen Institute for Forest Ecosystems want to reverse this process as part of their activities in the project.

Peatlands are an important carbon storage. Despite covering only 3% of the land area, they store twice as much carbon. Aiming at retaining water in the bog and encouraging its growth, the project team reconnected the catchment area, allowing water to flow back into the bog. They also closed all the ditches that were dug by foresters in the past, using proper peat plugs, to ensure the water stays in the bog. “Here, we want to measure CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions around the clock using automated chamber systems”, emphasises Cornelius Oertel.

The 5-meter-high measuring towers record greenhouse gas fluxes from the peatland (photo: Cornelius Oertel)

Field experiments at HoliSoils test sites are investigating the effects of soil and forest management and natural disturbances on soil processes, resilience and climate change mitigation potential. The Eisenstraßenmoor site, managed by HoliSoils partner Thünen Institute, is focussing on long term GHG measurements during and after the process of rewetting, short- and long-term changes of GHG emissions, and how are tree stands influenced by rewetting, among other studies.

In case you speak German and want to find out more, please watch this video: Informationen zum Moor für Waldbesucher – YouTube




This article was originally written by Cornelius Oertel (Thuenen Institute of Forest Ecosystems) and published on the EFI Resilience Blog.

Benefits of the transition to continuous cover forestry on fertile and drained peatland forests in Finland

A clear cut in the foreground of the spruce study site and an unharvested control area behind.

This press release was originally posted on Luke website.

Recent studies from the SOMPA project – coordinated by the The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) – assessed the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in fertile drained peatland forests according to different silvicultural practices in Finland. Continuous cover forestry on fertile drained peatland produced significant climate benefits, because their selection harvesting result in much fewer emissions in comparison to even-aged forestry and clear-cutting. However, selection harvesting does not significantly reduce the amount of soil emissions in comparison to uncut forests, especially if the soil water level is not greatly raised.

A study published in the Scientific Reports journal assessed how the GHG emissions of forests in Finland would change if clear-cutting in fertile and drained peatland forests were replaced by selection harvesting but timber production would be maintained at the average 2016–2018 level of 73 million cubic metres. 

“The transfer to selection harvesting in drained peatlands would yield significant climate benefits, because this would allow avoiding significant soil emissions after clear-cutting and the carbon sink of the growing stock would recover more swiftly after selection harvesting than after clear-cutting,” summarises Aleksi Lehtonen, research professor at Luke, and co-coordinator of the HoliSoils project, which identifies and tests novel soil management practices aiming to mitigate climate change.

A scenario calculation for 2022–2035 that does not allow for the clear-cutting of fertile drained peatland forests produces a larger carbon sink of forests by approximately 1–1,2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (Mt CO2 eq,) in comparison to the scenario corresponding to the current method, where clear-cutting is allowed. This emission reduction is equal to approximately 10 per cent of road traffic emissions of Finland.

In this scenario, the relation between the reduction in harvesting volume and in the increase in carbon sink depends on the selected forest management method. If harvesting is reduced by a million cubic metres by transforming in nutrient-rich spruce forests to selection harvesting, emissions would reduce by 2–3 Mt CO2 eq. The emission reduction in an equivalent reduction in felling volume is only 1,5–2 Mt CO2 eq if clear-cutting in fertile drained peatland forests and other current forest management methods are continued.

Based on this study, areas of development for GHG inventories and GHG scenario works can also be recognised. Harvesting related emissions in fertile drained peatland should be specified with additional monitoring. Tree growth models should also be developed so that they can predict growth in forests with that have variable structures.

Selection harvesting alone would only raise groundwater level minimally

A studies published in the Science of The Total Environment identified the mechanism of the soil GHG emissions and the impact of the groundwater level in both unthinned drained spruce forests and those subject to selection harvesting. 

In the studies, thinning forests through selection harvesting only raised the water level by a bit and did not have a significant effect on carbon emissions. Neither did the soil easily change into a methane source. 

Reducing the carbon emissions produced by oxygen-rich peatlands would require a higher increase in groundwater levels. 

“In the studied peatland forests, draining was originally quite effective and a larger reduction in soil emissions would likely have required a partial damming of ditches in addition to selection harvesting,” says Mikko Peltoniemi, research professor at Luke.

The starting points for cutting emissions may vary between peatland forests. 
“Developing suitable water management solutions for various conditions would require further studies on the combined effects of thinning intensities and the partial blocking of ditches,” says Peltoniemi. 

Qian Li and Maija Kurki from the Natural Resources Institute Finland take peat samples in Ränskäläkorvi, Asikkala. The samples are used to determine the microbial diversity and the genes that regulate its function. Photo: Aleksi Lehtonen

Articles

The studies have been funded by the following projects

  • SOMPA (projects.luke.fi)– Novel soil management practices – key for sustainable bioeconomy and climate change mitigation, Suomen Akatemia, Strategic Research
  • BiBiFe – Biogeochemical and biophysical feedbacks from forest harvesting to climate change, Suomen Akatemia.
  • UNITE-lippulaiva (uniteflagship.fi), Suomen Akatemia.
  • TUIMA – CarbonNudges in Climate Wise Land Use in Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

HoliSoils policy brief goes global with translation into 12 languages

The first HoliSoils policy brief Forest soils can increase climate change mitigation with targeted management has dramatically extended its reach to stakeholders around the world with translation into 11 languages.

The HoliSoils project consortium took quick measures to ensure the recent policy brief, published in May 2023, could be accessible to stakeholders in their own countries and beyond. The document is now available in Bosnian, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, and Spanish.

The policy brief translations, stemming from the original publication from the European Forest Institute, show how considering forest soils in improved management practices increases climate change mitigation. Forest management practices can affect soil carbon stock, soil CO2 emissions, and net exchange of other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Increasing forest soils’ capacity to store carbon and reduce net GHG emissions is crucial for the EU’s target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

This policy brief is based on a publication by the HoliSoils project which emphasises that the European forest sector needs a comprehensive understanding of the carbon sequestration potential of soils to help design climate change mitigation measures.

Recommendations in the brief include better accounting of forest soil responses to management practices, integrating their effects into existing modelling tools, and creating awareness of the importance of soil mitigation potential for climate change mitigation. The brief also calls for considering site-specific conditions for climate-smart forest management practices and reducing knowledge gaps in understanding how soil carbon balances and GHG emissions are affected by forest management, climate, biodiversity loss, and other environmental changes, as well as their trade-offs.

What is clear is that long-term soil monitoring is needed to verify targeted changes in soil carbon sequestration and reductions of GHG emissions to confirm which management practices are efficient in climate change mitigation, a goal to which the HoliSoils project is working hard to contribute.

Access all the translations from the HoliSoils website

Forest soils can increase climate change mitigation with targeted management

Oak seedling

Forest soils are larger carbon stocks than the trees that grow on them. Yet global studies on forest carbon stock changes often focus on wood biomass, wood products or various offsetting effects.

As the European Union strives to find measures to achieve vital climate targets, a new policy brief from the European Forest Institute shows how considering forest soils in improved management practices increases climate change mitigation. Forest management practices can affect soil carbon stock, soil CO2 emissions, and net exchange of other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Increasing forest soils’ capacity to store carbon and reduce net GHG emissions is crucial for the EU’s target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

This policy brief is based on a publication by the HoliSoils project which emphasises that the European forest sector needs a comprehensive understanding of the carbon sequestration potential of soils to help design climate change mitigation measures.

“The impact of forest management on soils is less studied and is treated in a highly simplified way in decision-making, even though forest management is crucial for achieving carbon neutrality objectives for terrestrial ecosystems,” says research professor Raisa Mäkipää from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and HoliSoils project coordinator. “Soil is the largest carbon stock in the forest, and it can be either a large sink or a source of GHGs, which are affected by forest management decisions”.

Practices which can affect forest soils include management of nutrients, tree stands, hydrology, biodiversity, and fire, as well as site preparation after harvesting or disturbance.

Management practices affect soil C stock, CO2, CH4, N2O emissions in temperate and boreal forests. (Green arrow indicates positive impacts for climate change mitigation and orange arrow negative impacts for climate change mitigation).

Recommendations in the brief include better accounting of forest soil responses to management practices, integrating their effects into existing modelling tools, and creating awareness of the importance of soil mitigation potential for climate change mitigation. The brief also calls for considering site-specific conditions for climate-smart forest management practices and reducing knowledge gaps in understanding how soil carbon balances and GHG emissions are affected by forest management, climate, biodiversity loss, and other environmental changes, as well as their trade-offs.

What is clear is that long-term soil monitoring is needed to verify targeted changes in soil carbon sequestration and reductions of GHG emissions to confirm which management practices are efficient in climate change mitigation, a goal to which the HoliSoils project is working hard to contribute.

Download the policy brief

Read the original publication