Northern European Forest Ungulate Network (NEFUN)

Coordinator: Annika Felton, annika.felton@slu.se

Financing: 126 000 SEK


Interactions among climate change, forestry and ungulates

Large wild herbivores, such as ungulates, can be major drivers of biodiversity and forest ecosystem services. Ungulates can influence vegetation composition, nutrient recycling, habitat structure and thus also microclimatic conditions for numerous organisms, such as small mammals, birds and invertebrates. A range of ungulate species inhabit the northern European forested areas and their influence on the forests is generally considered to be significant, which has repeatedly been confirmed in, for example, various exclosure studies (see photo below, from Larvik, Norway).

Human-induced climate change is likely to influence such patterns. For example, changes in snow depth may affect distributions of ungulate species and therefore also interact with the ecological functioning of the forest systems. In a future climate, vegetation composition and forage plant species distributions may shift as results of altered growing conditions. On the finer scale, nutrient contents of forage for ungulates may change, which may force the animals to change their foraging strategies and food choice to obtain balanced diets. Moreover, ungulates may face new or intensified stress factors, such as parasites, competing species, heat and drought.

At the same time, the ungulates’ forest habitat is strongly affected by forestry in this region, primarily due to effects on tree species composition, light conditions, soil properties and water. For ungulates, method of silviculture has been recognized as a key agent for determining the local browse availability, both its abundance and its quality. Simultaneously, the ungulates hamper, by their damage to young trees, the forestry’s goal to mitigate climate change. The NEFUN network aims to gather established research groups to better compile the existing knowledge regarding interactions between production forestry and northern European ungulates in a warmer climate, and to create new research projects that efficiently target the most crucial missing links.


Over-all long-term goal of the network

  • To synthesize knowledge about potential climatic-induced changes in the ungulate browsing regime and the consequences for sustainability and adaptation of the forestry sector
  • To develop knowledge strategies, explore funding options and usefulness of potential consortium compilations, in order to create and submit international project applications.


Goals for 2021

  • To map out the collected competences among members of the network, synthesize relevant published material regarding climatic-induced changes in the ungulate browsing regime, and define existing knowledge gaps into detailed work packages.
  • To follow up the work packages through regular meetings, leading towards an application for a larger research project.


Activities 2021

A 2-day workshop will be held in the spring of 2021. The aim of this workshop is to identify knowledge gaps and to develop a research strategy. Video meetings will be held approximately monthly the rest of the year after the initial workshop. Depending on call dates, a project application will be submitted towards the end of 2021. Provided we can obtain funds to cover additional labour costs, we will produce one or more review papers, as well as popular dissemination stemming from our knowledge syntheses.


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