The Future of Forests

This week’s issue of Science is a special issue on forests.
Here’s an overview of the many articles  in it.

Science 13 June 2008:
Vol. 320. no. 5882, p. 1435

Introduction to special issue
The Future of Forests
Andrew Sugden, Jesse Smith, Elizabeth Pennisi

Forests have had a pervasive influence on the evolution of
terrestrial life and continue to provide important feedbacks to the
physical environment, notably climate. Today, studies of the world’s
forests are taking place against a backdrop of unprecedented change,
largely resulting either directly or indirectly from human activity.
In this special issue, we focus particularly on the future of forests
in light of these changes.

In a video presentation, Jerry Franklin, Review author Gordon Bonan,
and Perspective author Valerie Kapos discuss the importance of
understanding the influence of forests on climate and some of the
challenges of global forest governance.

Current research on the relationships of forests and climate are
considered in a Review by Bonan (p. 1444), which provides an overview
of how climate and forests are connected through physical, chemical,
and biological processes that affect the carbon cycle, the hydrologic
cycle, atmospheric composition, and the flow of solar energy and heat
through the Earth system.

For scientists interested in forest dynamics (the turnover of
individual trees and species over time), long-term forest plots are
yielding field data on processes that take place over time scales
longer than a research career. Until recently, though, the
development of predictive models of forest dynamics lagged behind
observation. In a Perspective, Purves and Pacala (p. 1452) explain
how advances in the mathematics of forest modeling and the ecological
understanding of forest communities are generating exciting new
possibilities for mapping future trajectories of forests over times
from decades to centuries. At longer time scales, pollen and
macrofossil records, along with genetic data, have revealed past
movements of species as climates changed, which in turn provide
pointers to the direction of future change, as discussed by Petit et
al. in a Perspective (p. 1450).

Three further Perspectives deal with aspects of sustainable forest
management. Miles and Kapos (p. 1454) consider the question of
incentives for “avoided deforestation” in the context of the recent
Bali conference on climate change; Canadell and Raupach (p. 1456)
discuss how carbon sequestration can protect against the effects of
climate change; and Chazdon (p. 1458) considers how forests and their
ecosystem services can be restored on degraded lands. In another
Perspective, Agrawal et al. (p. 1460) spotlight some recent trends in
forest governance and ownership, which in effect define the limits
and opportunities for sustainability.

The three News reports take a look at how humans have reshaped wooded
landscapes across the globe. Stokstad (p. 1436) takes stock of a
large-scale assessment of Amazonian biodiversity in regenerating
forests and tree farms. Koenig (p. 1439) examines the precariousness
of the extensive rainforests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Morell (p. 1442) reports on the success of preservation efforts in
China’s Hengduan Mountain Region, one of the richest temperate forest

Forests and trees have been intimately bound up with the emergence
and cultural development of our own species. Their future, and that
of human society, depends ever more on how humans treat them in the
coming decades.


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