Forests, Soil and Water Interactions

TF Forests, Soil and Water Interactions

Task Force Coordinator:

Richard Harper, Australia


Forests play both an integral role in the supply of clean water for a range of uses, and also in stabilizing and protecting soils from erosion. Much of the world's freshwater is provided through forested catchments and forests protect many dams from siltation and contamination from various pollutants and protect groundwater systems from pollution. In addition, both soil and water are essential drivers of forest health and growth. However, with increasing demand for agricultural and urban land as a result of increasing population and more affluent life-styles, forests are often under pressure. In many regions this pressure will be exacerbated by climate change.

One of the five research themes in the IUFRO 2015-2019 Strategy is "Forest, Soil and Water interactions" and the Forests, Water and Soils Task Force will develop a range of integrating activities in and around this theme. The 2015-2019 Strategy describes several knowledge gaps and uncertainties related to forests, soils and water and in particular the impacts of climate change, forest management and soil conservation on water supplies. It suggests a range of research responses including developing a better understanding of ecohydrological processes, capacity strengthening in forest eco-hydrology, soil science and ecosystem research and monitoring and integrating this knowledge at landscape scales and translating the science into policies and decision making processes.

Areas of emphasis for the IUFRO Strategy include (i) macro level land management and impacts on regional water cycles, (ii) forest management strategies to adapt and mitigate climate change, (iii) understanding and enhancing the protective role of forest ecosystems which play a key role in water conservation and (iv) understanding the protective role of forest ecosystems in disaster prevention and reduction.

This is a large area. The Forests and Water Research Goal was previously identified in the IUFRO 2010-2014 Strategy as one of six key areas for development. This ran for 10 years from 2005-2014 under the leadership of Profs Calder, Simons and Liu. The proposed Task Force will build on this previous work and extend activities to also include soils. It will comprise a coordinator a management group with extensive knowledge and networks across a range of forest systems and a Steering Committee comprising chairs of an array of IUFRO Units, and also invited representatives from non-IUFRO organizations.

Often forests and water, or forests and soils are considered in isolation, whereas the processes occur in physical and human landscapes. Subsequent management is affected by these factors as well as political and market forces. Emerging areas of work, highlighted at the XXIV World Congress in Salt Lake City, include (i) recognition that interactions need to be considered within the context of landscape processes, (ii) the emergence of new threats to forest health and thus soil and hydrological processes from climate change and population growth, (iii) the development of new markets related to climate mitigation (REDD+, reforestation, bioenergy) that may change the management of whole landscapes, (iv) the ongoing development of ecosystems service payments and (v) the clear message that science should be cognizant of policy and management requirements.

This Task Force will examine these issues, gaps and uncertainties by establishing a research network, and then running a series of themed workshops. The specific aim of this activity will be to develop coherent management responses that build on this enhanced understanding of forest, soil and water interactions. Importantly, these responses will be informed by consideration of economic and cultural factors that affect adoption of new approaches and technologies.

Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of the Task Force are to:

  • Develop a network of forest, water and soil researchers and research organizations.
  • Examine the interactions of forests, water and soils in a broad context that considers impacts of climate change, emerging climate mitigation markets, and adaptive forest soil and water management,
  • Examine the interaction between science and the related policy responses with respect to declining water values in forest areas, global forest decline, and inter-related climate and landscape scale forest disturbance impacts.
  • Examine the effects of human use of forest resources on forest, water and soil interactions.
  • Produce new knowledge on the synthesis of forest, soil, water and climate change,
  • Identify new and emerging issues in and around the theme,
  • Provide an international focus and leadership on issues related to Forests, Water and Soils, and
  • Bridge science, forest management and policy.

The approach of this Task Force will take will be to:

Develop a network of forest, soil and water researchers, initially by contacting all Unit Coordinators across IUFRO. This will both examine the degree to which the Coordinators consider soil and water interactions to be important in their areas of forest expertise, but also the extent to which they wish to be involved in subsequent activities. This process will thus allow the Task Force to encompass the full diversity of the organization. Importantly, it will avoid a prescriptive approach with pre-defined outcomes, by illuminating new areas of concern from across the IUFRO member base.  

Organize a set of on-line 10-12 minute discussion pieces from various thought leaders on different aspects of forests, water and soils (science, policy, industry, user groups). These will be aimed at policy makers, decision makers and practitioners and encompass (a) large-scale synthesis, (b) the cutting edge of science, (c) regional studies, and (d) controversies and emerging issues.

Arrange specialized workshops and sessions at existing meetings and small specific meetings. These will examine different themes related to forests, soils and water. The first workshop held in Canada in July 2015, examined forests and water in a changing environment, and this will be followed by another in China in October 2015 that will examine the likely impacts of emerging carbon mitigation markets on forest soil and water management. Meetings in 2016 and 2017 will be developed following consultation in the network.

Publish the papers from these and subsequent workshops either as review articles or as special issues of forestry and ecohydrology journals.

Send comments to Richard Harper (Task Force Coordinator)