By: Stef Haesen and Koenraad Van Meerbeek
Bioclimatic variables play a pivotal role in various scientific disciplines, spanning from biogeography and community ecology to the study of ecosystem functioning, where they enable a more precise representation of annual climatic trends, seasonality, or limiting environmental factors relevant to ecological processes. Typically, these research fields rely on a traditional set of bioclimatic variables, often available at a coarse spatial resolution of approximately 1 × 1 km². However, a significant portion of terrestrial life on Earth and many critical ecological processes, such as litter decomposition, respond to climate conditions at much finer scales beneath the canopies of trees. Presently, bioclimatic variables lack the capacity to capture this high spatial variability in microclimatic conditions. In response, the sGlobe research group from KU Leuven's division of Forest, Nature, and Landscape has pioneered the development of novel bioclimatic variables that account for the temperature buffering effect of European forests at high spatial resolutions.
“Although the creation of the ForestClim dataset presented computational challenges, our access to the Flemish Supercomputer Centre (VSC) and the invaluable support of the VSC team were instrumental in realizing our research goals.”
By harnessing the ForestTemp model, an innovative machine learning model capable of quantifying the temperature buffering capabilities of European forests at fine resolutions, we crafted a novel set of bioclimatic variables. These variables unveil the intricate microclimatic temperature variations within forested ecosystems, marking a significant scientific and technical breakthrough that shows promising prospects to enhance ecological models and predictions. Furthermore, by freely sharing this data, we lowered the threshold for fellow ecologists to incorporate pertinent microclimatic information into their research.
Figure 1: Novel high-resolution predictions of temperature patterns within European forests unveil the substantial differences between conventional bioclimatic variables and those corrected for the buffering effect of European forests. Illustrated here is an example from the 'Meerdaalwoud' forest, situated near Leuven in central Belgium. On the left, you can observe the temperature data derived from conventional weather stations, while on the right, you can explore the novel high-resolution temperatures encompassing all European forests.
These new high-resolution forest temperature maps furnish essential insights for researchers aiming to analyze the influence of climate on European forests. For instance, those investigating the distribution of specific forest species cannot rely on climate data from external weather stations as they require information specific to the organisms' actual habitat. These maps represent a groundbreaking advancement in terms of information accuracy, providing the ability to understand and manage the temperatures experienced by the young tree saplings that comprise the forests of the future. This information grows increasingly critical with each passing year, as climate change and the rising frequency of extreme weather events threaten the resilience of forest canopies.
Although the creation of the ForestClim dataset presented computational challenges, our access to the Flemish Supercomputer Centre (VSC) and the invaluable support of the VSC team were instrumental in realizing our research goals.
Read the full publication of this article in Global Change Biology here