EU Scientists See the Forest for the Trees (EU-Forest)

The JRC has recently released a high-resolution tree occurrence dataset for Europe. The EU-Forest dataset is the most comprehensive database ever of forest resources at the EU level, comprising over half a million tree occurrences and over 200 different tree species. It improves our understanding of the rapidly changing forested areas of Europe and changes over time of the kinds of trees that make them up.

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The EU-Forest dataset is the most comprehensive database ever of forest resources at the EU level. ©Fotolia, haveseen

Its high-quality, standardised data will be used for forestry, biodiversity conservation and even paleoecology purposes, where tree species occurrences help understand past and future changes in forests. They are also vital for containing particularly damaging forest pests.

EU-Forest merges information on European tree occurrences from existing datasets, compiled in the context of the former EU ‘Forest Focus’ Regulation, with a much larger new dataset built in collaboration with 21 National Forest Inventories (NFIs) in Europe. This latter dataset was based on the data provided and the harmonisation efforts of the European NFIs working with the JRC. Thanks to the methodology followed, the data from 19 EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland can be compared, giving the broadest ever picture of tree occurrence in Europe.

Almost 600 000 tree occurrences in one dataset

EU-Forest represents a substantial improvement on previous datasets, increasing by an order of magnitude the amount of data of this kind available to the public, to almost 600 000 tree occurrences. Tree occurrence can be explained as the verified presence of a given tree in a given area (in this case 1 km2). The dataset is also comprehensive in terms of taxonomy, including more than 200 tree species.

How to use this dataset

EU-Forest dataset is designed to help public authorities looking for high-quality, standardised data on forests. It can also be applied for ecology, forestry, biodiversity conservation, and palaeoecology purposes, where tree species occurrences can be used to investigate past and future changes in forests.

It can also be used to generate detailed maps of tree species distribution in Europe, which are essential to inform actions to contain particularly damaging forest pests. EU-Forest data have already proven their potential in the production of high-resolution maps of tree species distribution and suitability in the European Atlas of Forest Tree Species, published in 2016.

Furthermore, these data have been used to show that centuries of human management have driven the ecological structure of European forests far from its natural state. The dataset and its features are described in an article published recently in Nature – Scientific Data.

Background

In the EU, forests cover approximately 38% of total land area, and their spatial extent has increased over the past 25 years due to land abandonment and afforestation programmes. The distribution of forested areas and their species composition is shaped first and foremost by human activities but will likely also be increasingly influenced by climate change and associated natural hazards such as forest fires and windstorms. Satellite data can provide valuable information by detecting forest location and extent, but can do little to map tree species distribution with the appropriate spatial and taxonomic resolution needed to monitor changes in terms of tree community composition and structure. Responding to this issue, the JRC supports and collaborates on projects and initiatives geared towards the harmonisation of European forest information, such as the harmonisation efforts of the European National Forest Inventory Network (ENFIN).