Forestry Research Strategy in the Era of Global Change and Development of Korean Long-Term Ecological Research (KLTER)


Lee, Buom-Young

Director-General, Forest Environment Department, Forest Research Institute, Korea





The earth has experienced steady change since it was first created. However, current man-induced environmental changes have become a serious problem due mainly to the rapid rate of change. Previously, rapid environmental change occurred between the Cretaceous and Tertiary era, when 60 to 80 percent of species disappeared over a fifty million year period (Kim, 1993). However, we are now witnessing rather dramatic impact on the environment, such as pollution and global warming, which have prompted the extinction of many species within only 100 years (UNEP, 1990). The present biological diversity has been achieved over geological time and is the product of the ecological and evolutionary mechanism of natural selection in response to natural disturbances.

Scientist have described about 1.5 million species of microbes, plants, and animals; the true total is probably well over 10 million (some authorities suggest 30 - 100 million and the UNEP reports 50 million).

We are now concerned about rates of extinction exceeding rates of speciation. It is possible only to make a crude assessment of the situation. The life-span of most species, excluding microorganisms, over the last few million years has probably been between a hundred thousand and a million years, although estimates of this sort are very difficult to make and species life-times are known to vary widely. Assuming a species number of 10 million at equilibrium, and a mean species life-time of 500,000 years, we should expect twenty new species to be added per year and twenty others going extinct - a resonable "natural extinction rate" before the advent of modern man (Edelstam et al. 1992).

Present extinction rates are dramatically different. Extinction is currently now proceeding at an estimated rate of probably 30 to 300 species per day. The greatest loss of biological diversity resulted from deforestation. This is not a simple subject to explain, since the removal of forest does not only affects the species in the forest but also ecosystems in the entire watershed.

The rapid industrialization contributes to global warming by discharging vast amounts of greenhouse gases and increasing the atmospheric concentrations by 0.4% for CO2, 0.8% for CH4, 4% for CFC and 0.25% for N2O per year. Their proportional contributions to the global warming are 61% for CO2, 15% for CH4, 11% for CFC, 4% for N2O and 9% for other gases (Houghton et. al. 1995). If these greenhouse gases continue to be emitted at current rates, the average temperature will  increase from 1℃ to 3.5℃ over the next 100 years and the sea level will rise by 50cm by 2100 (Houghton et. al. 1995). The weather data collected during the last 90 years in Korea indicate that the national average temperature has increased by 1℃, and the average for Seoul by 1.5℃ (Jo, 1991), the highest increase of any region in Korea. If this warming trend continues, tree species will generally migrate northward in latitude and upward in altitude. With a temperature increase of about 0.8 - 1.0℃, the expected shifting of tree species will be 3km for Quercus spp., 10km for Betula spp., and 2.5km for Picea spp. in European Russia and 5km for Ulmus spp., 2.5km for Abies spp., and 2.5km for Picea spp. in Canada (IPCC, 1990).

Numerous international meetings have been held since 1970 to discuss global environmental problems. In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, The Earth Summit) was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the Earth Summit, representatives adopted the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. The nonbinding Declaration provides general principles to guide the actions of both wealthy and poor nations on issues of the environment and development. The 800-page document for Agenda 21 is an innovative attempt to describe in a comprehensive manner the policies needed for environmentally sound development. In addition, they agreed to accept the Convention on Climate Change and Biological Diversity, even though the subjects were already included in Agenda 21. They also adopted a statement of Forest Principles that declares the appropriate forestry practices necessary for the conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests. The Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed in 1997, and it provides legally binding commitments of Parties. In order to respond to the global trends and to fulfil the international treaties, Korea should prepare a strategic research plan which will address diverse aspects of the forest environment.



Biological Diversity Research Plan


Since forests occupy about 65% of land in Korea and because forestry practices have significant influence on biological diversity, the conservation of biological diversity in forests is one of the principal national projects. Biological diversity research on forest ecosystems will be conducted in a systematic and comprehensive manner, including the collection of biological diversity data from the Nationwide Forest Ecological Survey. The establishment of a database management system and the installation of conservation structures and facilities are also included in the plan. Unlike the past focus on individual species, the proposed research will be based on the habitat and ecosystem. Considering the relationship between biological organisms and various environmental factors surrounding them, biological diversity research will target the ecosystem approach. Since the biological diversity of an ecosystem is closely related to neighboring ecosystems, the conservation strategy will begin at the local level, and then be expanded to the national and regional levels.

The Nationwide Forest Ecological Survey will collect data on the genetic diversity of forest plants and animals, on the species diversity of forest vegetation, wildlife and microorganisms, and on the diversity of ecosystems. It will eventually produce a national list of biological diversity in Korea. A computerized information system for biological diversity such as Geographical Information System (GIS) will be used to manage this large database; to develop simulation models that can predict possible changes due to climate change, air pollution and other human impacts; and to help set a conservation strategy.

Biological diversity itself is a dynamic and living system that has continual introduction of new species and extinction of others by internal and external causes. Mechanisms of internal changes have not been clearly identified and, therefore, it is still difficult to model the process of internal changes in biological diversity. Since biological diversity changes caused by the external factors, such as climate change and natural disturbance, are somewhat predictable, the simulation model can help in setting a conservation strategy. In particular, any changes in the forest ecosystem due to climate change is a very important matter considering the fact that the current biological diversity has been attained by the evolutionary process over geological time. Fragmentation and isolation of habitat by industrialization would be an obstacle for species migration as a response to climate change. Such impacts can be incorporated into the simulation model to help monitor biological diversity. It is also important to predict possible changes of biological diversity due to the natural disturbances, such as natural tree death and forest fire.

The conservation strategy that targets a particular individual species does not guarantee the long term existence of that species. The extinction of a species could imply that something has happened in the habitat where the species resides. Considering the past several decades of studies indicating that biological organisms are able to flourish in adequate and healthy habitats, the strategy for conservation of biological diversity should put more emphasis on the protection of habitat rather than individual species. Since it is impossible to directly manage the dispersion and migration of species within an individual habitat, we should be more concerned about insuring effective connections among habitats. Such habitat networks can be expanded not only within a country but also between countries. In addition, international cooperation is essential to maintain a viable network of habitats and to establish control plans for pollution, climate change and waterways.

Once the network for conserving biological diversity is designed, we need to establish special conservation field sites, such as genetic forest reserves, natural forest reserves and wildlife refugees, to maintain the frame of the conservation of biological diversity. To facilitate the conservation of endangered species and genome, special types of storage facilities (refrigerated storage, seed bank, arboretum, zoo, forest museum, etc.) are necessary to complement the field reserves. These special type of facilities should be operated as key laboratories for studying biological diversity as well as for exhibition and education to general public.



Climate Change Research Plan


In the face of the rapid climate change with great uncertainties, major concerns in forestry sector are 1) mitigation of climate change by enhancement of sequestration of atmospheric greenhouse gases into sink, and 2) conservation and sustainable management of forest ecosystems.

Cost-effective sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be achieved by increasing carbon stocks in biomass, soil and wood products, and by protection of forests. As we know, forest management activities including planting, tending, thinning, logging, and protection from disease, insects and fire, may alter the rate of carbon dioxide absorption and storing into the biomass and soil sinks. In addition, longevity of wood products affects on the carbon pool. Since woods are renewable resources, its products and bio-fuels can substitute fossil fuel energy. However, to assess how much and how long each activity affects on the greenhouse gas sequestration, long-term monitoring of carbon flows by human activities in all carbon stocks will be needed. Monitoring and data management system can be assisted by the remote sensing technique and GIS applications. At the same time, models should be developed to asses or forecast the carbon flows for providing guidelines on decision making of forest management.

The response of a forest to the projected future climate should be considered as a whole ecosystem, by evaluating all potential changes in biota including plants, disease, insects, and nutrients and hydrological processes. Forest ecosystems may not respond as rapidly as the climate changes because they can adapt at the changing environment, and one of the major component is long-lived trees, and the earth's climate is everchanging.  Species of diverse kinds survived many past climatic changes by migration of their population. However, the predicted global warming in the coming century will occur in a world transformed by human. Urbanization, road construction, farming and pesticide applications will create significant barriers to the migration.  Therefore, to conserve forest ecosystems and biological diversity wisely for the uncertain future, at first, potentially threatened or vulnerable species and ecosystems should be identified. And also interdisciplinary researches for networking ecological corridors will be necessary.

To address the long-term problems such as climate change, a policy should be based on ecosystem approach and we need long term ecological research. In the context of sustainable forest management, we are going to study a way how to distribute forest types in the national scale, and desirable forest management strategies.



Korean Long-Term Ecological Research


The Ecological Society of America proposed the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI), an initiative that focuses on the necessary role of ecological science in the wise management of Earth's resources and the maintenance of Earth's life support systems. The criteria used to evaluate research priorities in the report were (1) the potential to contribute to fundamental ecological knowledge, and (2) the potential to respond to major human concerns about the sustainability of the biosphere. Based on these criteria, the SBI proposed three Research Priorities : (1) Global Change, including the ecological causes and consequences of changes in climate; in atmospheric, soil, and water chemistry (including pollutants); and in land- and water-use patterns, (2) Biological Diversity, including natural and anthropogenic changes in patterns of genetic, species, and habitat diversity; ecological determinants and consequences of diversity; the conservation of rare and declining species; and the effects of global and regional change on biological diversity, (3) Sustainable Ecological Systems, including the definition and detection of stress in natural and managed ecological systems; the management of sustainable ecological systems; the role of pests, pathogens, and disease; and the interface between ecological processes and human social systems (Lubchenco et. al. 1991).

The Ecological Society of America Committee on the Scientific Basis for Ecosystem Management reported "Sustainability has become an explicitly stated goal of natural resource management agencies in recent years. In practice, however, there are several obstacles to implement sustainable forest management. The goal of ecosystem management is to overcome the obstacles." Maltby et. al.(1999) argued those obstacles resulted from the lack of understanding or full appreciation of the significance of ecosystem functioning.

Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) acknowledges (Cleve and Martin, 1991) :

(1) That there are ecological phenomena that occur on time scales of decades or centuries, periods of time not normally investigated with conventional research supports.

(2) That many ecological experiments are performed without sufficient knowledge of the year-to-year variability in the system. Interpretation is, therefore, difficult. This is especially true when the system in which the experiment is performed is not at equilibrium.

(3) That long-term trends in natural ecosystems formerly were not being systematically monitored. Unidirectional changes that were observed could not be distinguished from cyclic changes on long time scales.

(4) That a coordinated network of sites was not available to facilitate comparative experiments. Furthermore, data management was not being coordinated between research sites. Therefore, comparative analyses could not be performed and theoretical constructs could not be conveniently tested.

(5) That examples of natural ecosystems were being converted to uses incompatible with ecological research.

(6) That as a result of advances in ecological, phenomena at higher or lower levels of organization have been treated as insignificant or constant or have been oversimplified. This problem can be alleviated by performing intensive investigations at single sites, leading to an accumulation of overlapping information. Through time, site-specific research will generate increasingly valuable data sets, revealing pattern and control at several levels of ecosystem organization.


Although studies in both conservation of biological diversity and amelioration of climate changes are necessary to prepare for inevitable environmental changes on the global scale, they are complementary in deriving effective forestry practices and policies. The importance of combination is apparent whenever we consider assurance of genetic diversity allowing tree response to climatic changes, conservation and development of ecological corridors for range limit shifts, and development of an ecological network for the conservation of biological diversity.

Addressing global change is a long-term project, so that we need to establish a master plan for long-term research rather than find temporary solutions for current issues. Thus, I would like to recommend a long-term master plan as follows:





1. Ecological survey of nation-wide forest environment

  - palaecological survey

  - forest vegetation

  - distribution of microorganisms, invertebrates and vertebrates

  - distribution of habitats or landforms

  - identification of ecoregion including climate zones


2. Classification of forest organisms and resource conservation

  - sample collection, classification and identification of forest organisms

  - resource conservation and management of forest organisms

  - propagation and restoration of rare and/or endangered organisms


3. Ecological properties of forest organisms

  - growth response of trees by environmental factors

  - metabolic characteristics of forest trees

  - dynamics of forest organism populations

  - geographical distribution of forest organisms

  - dynamics of wild life populations by habitat changes

  - ecology of forest community


4. Conservation of forest ecosystem

  - understanding the structure, function and process of ecosystems

  - development of ecological information systems

  - development of biodiversity conservation systems

   · evaluation of forest organisms' diversity and restoration technique

   · development of biodiversity structural model for forest ecosystem

   · conservation and development of ecological corridors

   · evaluation of wetland environment

   · vertical and horizontal distribution pattern of biodiversity

   · monitoring threatened species and introduced species

   · monitoring for environmental degradation

           ; habitat loss and fragmentation

           ; air pollution including acid rain and ozone

           ; water pollution

           ; pesticide and herbicide pollution

   · nationwide network for the conservation of biodiversity

  - forest ecosystem conservation strategy to ameliorate adverse effects

     of climatic changes

   · vegetational changes and manipulative techniques

   · changes in decomposition rate of organic matter

      and potential for human intervention/manipulation

   · prediction of insect-disease-damages and amelioration plan

   · changes in wild life population dynamics and amelioration plan

  - recovery and management of damaged forest ecosystem

  - conservation and management of urban forests


Literature Cited

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