Europe’s forests are sitting on a pollution timebomb which could rewrite their ecology when it explodes, say researchers.
Delicate forest floor plants such as wood sorrel or violet, and the balance among the tree species that tower above them, are all threatened by decades of accumulated nitrogen pollution. A study has found that the darkness of the forest has subdued the effects of nitrogen. But forests are destined to let in more light in the future as trees succumb to drought and disease.
Forests cover 40% of the European Union’s land area and are expanding in some countries, mostly because of active restoration or the abandonment of agricultural land. Forests provide services such as controlling erosion and cycling water but they are also increasingly threatened by droughts and diseases such as ash dieback.
To understand how they are responding to these challenges it is vital to study the forest floor, says Professor Kris Verheyen, an ecologist at Ghent University in Belgium.
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