A Mechanistic View of the Capacity of Forests to Cope with Climate Change

  • Fernando ValladaresEmail author
Part of the Managing Forest Ecosystems book series (MAFE, volume 34)


From an evolutionary point of view, trees have at least one intriguing feature: they tend to have high levels of genetic diversity, but at the same time, they are known for their low evolutionary rates. Thus, trees are characterized by a counterintuitive combination of rapid micro-evolutionary change and a low macro-evolutionary change (Petit and Hampe 2006). Trees experience highly heterogeneous environmental conditions and are exposed to extreme climatic events within their lifetime, which could contribute to the maintenance of their typically high genetic diversity (Gutschick and BassiriRad 2003; Petit and Hampe 2006). Trees are not only highly diverse but also highly fecund over their extended lifetime, allowing them to respond to high selection intensity and to adapt quickly to local conditions (Petit and Hampe 2006). Mean antiquity of tree species is one order of magnitude higher than for herbs, which implies low rates of extinction to compensate for their low rates of speciation. However, forest species are more vulnerable to environmental change than this combination of evolutionary features may suggest (Jump and Peñuelas 2005). Recent studies of Spanish populations of beech (Fagus sylvatica) are showing that the fragmentation of the forests that took place several centuries ago has led to a high genetic divergence of the populations and a reduced genetic diversity despite the fact that the species is wind-pollinated and the fragments are very near to each other (Jump and Peñuelas 2006). These studies show the negative genetic impact of forest fragmentation , demonstrating that trees are not at reduced risk from environmental change (Fig. 2.1). This rather unexpected sensitivity of trees to forest management is particularly important under the current climate change since it can exacerbate the impact of human activities on forest dynamics and natural regeneration (Castro et al. 2004a).


Climate Change Mediterranean Forest Rapid Climate Change Current Climate Change Phenotypic Integration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks are due to the members of the Spanish thematic network GLOBIMED ( for inspiring discussions on forests and global change. One anonymous referee helped to improve the text. Financial support was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (ECOCLIM, CGL2007–66066-C04–02/BOS) and by the Programa de Actividades de I + D de la Comunidad de Madrid (Consejería de Educación) REMEDINAL-CM (S-0505/AMB/000335).


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MNCN-CSICMadridSpain

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