Accuracy, realism and general applicability of European forest models

2022 | journal article. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Accuracy, realism and general applicability of European forest models​
Mahnken, M.; Cailleret, M.; Collalti, A.; Trotta, C.; Biondo, C.; D'Andrea, E. & Dalmonech, D. et al.​ (2022) 
Global Change Biology, art. gcb.16384​.​ DOI: 

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Mahnken, Mats; Cailleret, Maxime; Collalti, Alessio; Trotta, Carlo; Biondo, Corrado; D'Andrea, Ettore; Dalmonech, Daniela; Marano, Gina; Mäkelä, Annikki; Minunno, Francesco; Reyer, Christopher P. O.
Forest models are instrumental for understanding and projecting the impact of climate change on forests. A considerable number of forest models have been developed in the last decades. However, few systematic and comprehensive model comparisons have been performed in Europe that combine an evaluation of modelled carbon and water fluxes and forest structure. We evaluate 13 widely used, state-of-the-art, stand-scale forest models against field measurements of forest structure and eddy-covariance data of carbon and water fluxes over multiple decades across an environmental gradient at nine typical European forest stands. We test the models' performance in three dimensions: accuracy of local predictions (agreement of modelled and observed annual data), realism of environmental responses (agreement of modelled and observed responses of daily gross primary productivity to temperature, radiation and vapour pressure deficit) and general applicability (proportion of European tree species covered). We find that multiple models are available that excel according to our three dimensions of model performance. For the accuracy of local predictions, variables related to forest structure have lower random and systematic errors than annual carbon and water flux variables. Moreover, the multi-model ensemble mean provided overall more realistic daily productivity responses to environmental drivers across all sites than any single individual model. The general applicability of the models is high, as almost all models are currently able to cover Europe's common tree species. We show that forest models complement each other in their response to environmental drivers and that there are several cases in which individual models outperform the model ensemble. Our framework provides a first step to capturing essential differences between forest models that go beyond the most commonly used accuracy of predictions. Overall, this study provides a point of reference for future model work aimed at predicting climate impacts and supporting climate mitigation and adaptation measures in forests.
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Global Change Biology 
Nordwestdeutsche Forstliche Versuchsanstalt 
European Regional Development Fund



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