An analysis of data spanning 140 years from one of the world’s oldest forest study sites indicates that trees have been growing significantly faster and stands have become larger since the 1960s.
The study, published in Nature Communications, was based on 600,000 individual tree surveys conducted since 1870 at a central European forest study site. European beech and Norway spruce, the dominant tree species in the experimental plots, grew 77 and 32 percent faster, respectively, than they did 50 years ago, the analysis found.
The study also found that stands of trees increased in volume by 30 percent for beech and 10 percent for spruce trees. The trends are primarily due to rising temperatures and longer growing seasons, the researchers say, although increasing carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere could also play a role.
The stages of tree development haven’t changed, the researchers say; instead, trees are moving through their development trajectory much faster than before. The changes could affect other plants and animals in the forest ecosystem that rely on specific phases of forest development. Those species may need to become more mobile to survive, the study says.