Forest disturbance in a changing world

The effects of forest cover and disturbance on torrential hazards: large-scale evidence from the Eastern Alps

A new study, published in Environmental Research Letters finds large-scale evidence for the protective function of forests against torrential hazards (debris flow, flood). However, increasing disturbances might reduce protective power of forests in the future.

Julius Sebald, Cornelius Senf, Rupert Seidl and colleauges investigated how forest cover and canopy removal, trough natural disturbances and human ressource use, influence the occurrence and frequency of torrential hazards.

They analyzed data on 3768 torrential hazard evens collected from 1986 to 2016 in 10885 watersheds troughout Austria.

The results show: forests protect humans from natural hazards! The higher the share of forest cover in a given watershed, the lower the probaility of a torrential hazard to happen.

However, the study also shows that increasing forest disturbances in Central Europe are a potential threat to the protective function of forests. Disturbances strongly influence the probability of torrential hazards, with the regular occurrence of large disturbances strongly increasing the probability of debris flow events.

Written by Julius Sebald on Tuesday November 12, 2019

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