The impacts of climate change and disturbance on spatio-temporal trajectories of biodiversity in a temperate forest landscape.

Published online
12 Apr 2017
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Thom, D. & Rammer, W. & Dirnböck, T. & Müller, J. & Kobler, J. & Katzensteiner, K. & Helm, N. & Seidl, R.
Contact email(s)

Publication language


The ongoing changes to climate challenge the conservation of forest biodiversity. Yet, in thermally limited systems, such as temperate forests, not all species groups might be affected negatively. Furthermore, simultaneous changes in the disturbance regime have the potential to mitigate climate-related impacts on forest species. Here, we (i) investigated the potential long-term effect of climate change on biodiversity in a mountain forest landscape, (ii) assessed the effects of different disturbance frequencies, severities and sizes and (iii) identified biodiversity hotspots at the landscape scale to facilitate conservation management. We employed the model iLand to dynamically simulate the tree vegetation on 13 865 ha of the Kalkalpen National Park in Austria over 1000 years, and investigated 36 unique combinations of different disturbance and climate scenarios. We used simulated changes in tree cover and composition as well as projected temperature and precipitation to predict changes in the diversity of Araneae, Carabidae, ground vegetation, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Mollusca, saproxylic beetles, Symphyta and Syrphidae, using empirical response functions. Our findings revealed widely varying responses of biodiversity indicators to climate change. Five indicators showed overall negative effects, with Carabidae, saproxylic beetles and tree species diversity projected to decrease by more than 33%. Six indicators responded positively to climate change, with Hymenoptera, Mollusca and Syrphidae diversity projected to increase more than twofold. Disturbances were generally beneficial for the studied indicators of biodiversity. Our results indicated that increasing disturbance frequency and severity have a positive effect on biodiversity, while increasing disturbance size has a moderately negative effect. Spatial hotspots of biodiversity were currently found in low- to mid-elevation areas of the mountainous study landscape, but shifted to higher-elevation zones under changing climate conditions. Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight that intensifying disturbance regimes may alleviate some of the impacts of climate change on forest biodiversity. However, the projected shift in biodiversity hotspots is a challenge for static conservation areas. In this regard, overlapping hotspots under current and expected future conditions highlight priority areas for robust conservation management.

Key words