Forest biometrics – what lies ahead?

The emancipation of forest science indeed took a long time. Forest academies starting off as teaching institutions for forestry staff more than 200 years ago carried out limited research to support state and private forest management. The spirit of this set up continued until recently with teaching that was more practical than in other fields of natural sciences and research that was predominantly industry oriented and dominated by forest management and planning. This fundamentally changed in most western countries towards the 1990s when forest science started to be considered and reviewed like any other subject area in natural and social sciences. This development is still ongoing in Europe and throughout the world. It has led to a fundamental change in subject areas within forest science: Academic fields such as soil science, genetics and plant physiology that until then played a modest role went right to the top whilst formerly dominating fields such as forest management lost much of their importance. Some academic fields were abandoned. At other places forest science was shut down at respective universities or merged with other fields beyond recognition. Whether all of these changes were to the better, is another matter …

Forest biometrics is a newcomer in forest science. It modestly started off as forest mathematics at different places in Europe and North America some 100-150 years ago for teaching a minimum of essential quantitative skills. As many academic fields initially it was supposed to fill a support role for the engineering parts of forest science teaching and research. However, since the 1960s/70s this view started to become increasingly outdated and the subject area successfully established itself at most universities as a research field in its own right in the same way as other disciplines.

Some chairs in forest biometrics have since then specialised on forest growth and yield modelling or general statistics. With some notable exceptions this is typically the case in North America. In Europe, however, there is an increasing trend for forest biometrics to play an important role in quantitative ecology and ecosystem modelling. This niche is also partly occupied by other research institutions outside forest science and the collaboration with these has been very fruitful and inspiring.

The Forest Faculty at SLU was recently ranked as a leading international forest science institution. As a professor representing SLU this was really nice to read. The Faculty has surely deserved this for all their hard work and at the same time ours is one of the last few forest science only faculties in Europe. In 2024 SLU will host the IUFRO world congress at Stockholm, the birthplace of the SLU Faculty of Forest Sciences and next year we will launch a new MSc degree in Forest Ecology and Sustainable Forest Management.

Along with other academic fields forest biometrics has an important role to play to help the Faculty to maintain this position in the world. To strengthen forest biometrics and in recognition of the achievements of the current chair, the professorship in forest biometrics at SLU recently moved from the Department of Forest Resource Management to the Department of Forest Ecology and Management.  The chair has received a warm welcome at the new department and I am most grateful to my new colleagues. I will continue my research in individual-based methods of forest ecology involving point process statistics, individual-based modelling, tree growth analysis and the analysis of interaction between humans and trees. The organisational change reflects current trends elsewhere in Europe and allows a better integration of quantitative ecology in the wider academic field of forest ecology. SLU therefore have made an important decision towards shaping the future of forest science and maintaining its mission in Sweden, Europe and the world.

By Arne Pommerening

My background is in forest science with a PhD in forest biometrics (from Göttingen University (Germany) and a Habilitation in forest biometrics (from BOKU University Vienna (Austria). For eleven years I have been working in the fields of quantitative forest management and quantitative ecology at Bangor University (North Wales, UK) before working for a short while in Switzerland. Since 2014 I work as a Professor in Mathematical Statistics Applied to Forest Science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU in Umeå and my research areas include woodland structure analysis and modelling, spatio-temporal dynamics of plant point patterns, individual-based modelling with a focus on plant interactions, plant growth analysis, methods of quantifying and monitoring biodiversity and the analysis of human behaviour of selecting trees. Much of my research is computer-based using simulation experiments and my research is strongly interdisciplinary and international.

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