How a forest’s history determines the way herb layer communities respond to global change

Forest understorey communities are biodiverse communities and codetermine the functioning of temperate forests by influencing nutrient cycling processes and tree regeneration.

The composition of these communities however changes through time. These are changes that are predominantly driven by past land use, but can be modulated by atmospheric deposition, climate warming and forest management.

To be able to attenuate or reverse unfavourable community changes that reduce forest functioning, one needs to build an integrative understanding of how global change and past land use jointly determine the composition of the understorey.

Pastforward project forest

What we do

To understand the interactive effects of past land use, atmospheric deposition and climate warming on forest herb layer communities, we use three complementary research strategies on a European scale:

  • Statistical analyses of well-documented community changes in the past
  • Vegetation surveys in forests with contrasting, but well-documented land use histories
  • A controlled pot experiment to unravel the effects of global change and land use history
  • Process-based modelling to integrate this knowledge


The project’s findings will help forest managers and policy makers to take informed decisions on how to combine forestry with biodiversity conservation.