Kris Verheyen - UnderSCORE

Description of the PI

krisverheyen.jpgKris Verheyen holds a Master degree in Forest and Nature Management (1997, KU Leuven) and did PhD-research on the factors limiting colonization of understory herbs in secondary forests established on past agricultural land (2002; KU Leuven). In October 2004, Kris Verheyen became head of Forest & Nature Lab. Since then, his research interests developed around the following themes: The study of the impact of multiple (interacting) global change drivers on (plant) communities; research on the importance of biodiversity for ecosystem functioning; and applied research aimed at the optimization of ecosystem management for ecosystem service delivery. Trough the ERC Consolidator Grant PASTFORWARD, Kris Verheyen managed to lead a large study on forest understorey responses to past land use and global environmental change.

Description of the project

UnderSCORE is a proof of concept web-based Decision Support System to score forest understorey dynamics in response to management interventions in a changing world. Currently, forest management models focus predominantly on tree dynamics following interventions, and tend to ignore the plant species found below the trees on the forest floor (the understorey). This is a crucial oversight, as the understorey is the major component of biodiversity; provides vital ecosystem services (properties that ensure human wellbeing: e.g. food supply, pollinator habitat and resources, recreational visits for wildflowers); and, can influence the overall functioning of the forest with its impact on – for instance - nutrient cycling and forest regeneration. A greater emphasis from policy makers and society on maintaining and enhancing biodiversity values of forests requires managers and auditors to be aware of likely outcomes of management interventions for the understorey. However, there is a general ignorance of such outcomes. As such, there is a need for a user-friendly tool to help predict key understorey plant performance indicators (e.g. biodiversity, share of species of conservation concern) across environmental contexts (e.g. macroclimate space, land-use history) and overstorey tree management (e.g. timber species choice, forest management systems, rotation times). The construction of a user-friendly tool requires an underlying model that can predict forest understorey dynamics in relation to environmental and management contexts.

We propose to solve the lack of a user-friendly tool for understanding vital understorey dynamics by first creating a prototype web-based Decision Support System (UnderSCORE). The ERC proof-of-concept Grant UnderSCORE will show how biodiversity in forest understoreys, in different environmental contexts, will respond to forest management interventions. Its name emphasizes (underscores) the requirement to consider the overlooked understorey, and reflects its output: easily comprehended scores for different understorey indicators which users can compare across environmental and management contexts and over time. Creating this tool will transfer the research output of the ERC PASTFORWARD project into a form that is of direct use for policy makers and forest managers. Such a tool is not currently available but clear legal and societal imperatives (e.g. Natura 2000, European Biodiversity Strategy) require its development, and provide the context for its adoption by potential users. To reach the expected outcome, we will first assess the needs and requirements of end-users (commercial timber producers, nature conservation organisations, environmental consulting firms, forest certification organisations (such as FSC and PEFC), and national and European-level policy makers. Second, we will use this information to develop and tailor a pre-commercialisation prototype of UnderSCORE, applying it to temperate deciduous European forests.