Sustainable use and management of non native trees in the alpine region

Risk and opportunity of Non-native trees

People and trees share a vital relationship since the very beginning of our history until today. Since centuries trees are used by people for multiple purposes such as food, fuel, paper or timber and therefore became one of the most valuable natural resource in human history. Moreover trees provide us with even more important ecosystem services which maybe are not visible at the first sight: trees regulate the climate, support the formation of soil, stabilize soils, play a key role in the nutrient and water cycle and give us the air we need to breath every single second. In this context it is not surprising, that trees also were personified and worshiped in many methodologies all over the globe. Already in early ancient history trees hold magical and symbolic value.

Especially in the Alpine space the relationship of trees and humans has grown very strong and divers. The ecosystem services provided by trees in cities and forests are widely recognized and implemented in many management instruments at local, national and European level. Furthermore, a large share of the regional economy depends on the timber-based industries. In the last decades the high value of trees and forest for tourism was revealed. Therefore, forest play an important role in the employment and education of inhabitants on the Alpine space.

Nevertheless, the Alpine Space is facing the consequences of climate change crisis and the biodiversity crisis. One the one hand trees in urban, peri-urban and forest ecosystems are widely discussed as nature-based solutions for accelerating climate change mitigation and adaptation change mitigation and adaptation in the Alpine Space. On the other hand, trees face a difficult life conditions under climate change: droughts, storms, seasonal shifts in precipitation, global radiation, and relative humidity will increasingly limit the growth and vitality of trees and entire forests in the Alpine space.

(C) Luca Bravo, Lago di Braies/Südtirol

Facing this future, experts have discussed options for climate change adaptation, which also include the use on non-native trees. Non-native trees, also known as “non-indigenous”, “alien”, “introduced”, “allochthonous” or “exotic” trees, are tree species, breeds or hybrids in the Alpine Space region whose presence there is the result of human activity by way of intentional or accidental introduction. The introduction of non-native trees in the Alpine space has started in the 19th century – mainly for ornamental purposes. Some old grown individuals are still alive today in the botanical gardens. Almost hundred years ago the interest on non-native trees for use in forests has stated to grow due to the resistance to pests, droughts, and fast growth.

But the introduction of non-native trees did not inherited only benefits. Few non-native tree species escaped from plantations into natural ecosystems, where they spread rapidly and outcompete native species, change the species composition and cause irreversible harm to biodiversity.

This controversial effects of negative and positive impacts of non-native trees have created controversial opinions among experts, and confusion for policy makers and the public. Furthermore, comprehensive risk analysis on Climate change and non-native trees has led to an incoherent patchwork of local strategies for non-native trees in the Alpine space. By identifying current and future benefits and negative impacts of non-native trees, ALPTREES will challenge this common territorial challenge in the Alpine Space. ALPTREES is the first project in the Alpine space facing the need for a respond to the negative effects of Climate Change on the Alpine environment, economy and society by establishing transnational cooperation for sustainable use and management of non-native trees in urban, peri-urban and forest ecosystems. The outputs of this cooperation include risk assessment tools, risk maps for nature conservation and an Open ALPTREES Knowledge Hub to share policies, tools and technical guidance for the management and responsible use of non-native trees.

You may say, we the ALPTREES team, have set very ambitious goals, but we are united in the motivation to contribute to the mitigation of the climate change crisis and the biodiversity crisis in the Alpine Region. You and every citizen in the Alpine Space can support the ALPTREES project throughout our activities, conferences and events. Everyone is welcome to learn and share knowledge. Get in touch with us: and many thanks for your interest on the ALPTREES project.

Dr. Katharina LAPIN