Project in the picture

Large solitary trees in the face of climate change: contributions to biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Large solitary trees (LSTs) are recognised for their ecological significance and disproportionately contribute to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In agricultural and urban landscapes, they serve as islands with their own microenvironment: they harbour important parts of local biodiversity, contribute to carbon stocks and nutrient cycling, and cool the local microclimate. Here we study LSTs and their associated biodiversity and functions across Europe, as early warning signals of climate change before they occur elsewhere.


LSTs are threatened across the world due to climate change (warming, droughts and heat waves), pests and pathogens, disturbance, and other causes. Given their functional significance, any performance or survival decline of the LST will lead to a cascade of effects and potentially lead to a so-called ‘trophic meltdown’.


We study LSTs in nine European regions, spread along a macroclimatic gradient in Europe. In each of these regions, eight LSTs of the three focal species (i.e. Tilia cordata, Fraxinus excelsior, Quercus robur) are selected along a continuous urban-to-rural gradient. During two fieldwork campaigns (summer 2022 & winter 2023) data has been collected on different aspects of these selected trees e.g. temperature logging, insect traps, leaf & soil samples, tree coring etc.


The CoolTree-project is coordinated by Fornalab (Ghent University) by Astrid Van den Bossche and Pieter De Frenne, the division of Forest, Nature and Landscape (KU Leuven) by Karlien Moeys and Koenraad Van Meerbeek, and the Institute of Forest and Nature Research (INBO) by Arno Thomaes, in collaboration with the FLEUR network.