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05/2020: Dr. FOREST – Diversity of Forests affecting human health and well-being

Forest ecosystems are the keepers of biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes within Europe delivering many ecosystem services to humans. Especially near urban areas, forests serve as popular locations for recreational activities. However, as protectors of all kinds of life, forests can also harbour threats and diseases, e.g. ticks that transmit pathogens to humans. To better combine biodiversity conservation with ecosystem management that supports human health and well-being, a group of researchers has set out to quantify the impacts of forest biodiversity on human health.

Main objectives

Dr. FOREST aims to:

  • Study the effects and underlying mechanisms with which tree diversity in temperate forests influences human health and well-being;
  • Understand and predict the effects of global climate change, air pollution and other change factors on biodiversity-related health issues;
  • Evaluate and define tree diversity benefits to human health and well-being, and communicate these findings to local and high-level international stakeholders.

Main activities

The Dr. Forest Research project consists of tree diversity research sites that are spread out in different climatic regions of Central Europe, namely Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Poland. These diverse forest sites are closely monitored on the following topics: biodiversity´s effect on psychological restoration; microclimate; medicinal and edible plants and fungi; disease vectors; clean air; and health impact modelling and assessment. On top of the research sites, three case studies in urban forests will be developed and paired with three stakeholder workshops, in Belgium, France and Germany.

Dr. FOREST will work with stakeholders from local to national to European scales, and will seek to work together in developing useful decision tools, such as policy briefs and guidelines for “Evidence-based Health Assessments of Forest Interventions”. A touring video and photo exhibition on “Forest Diversity and Human Health” will travel across Europe. The exhibition will support the promotion of the project outputs by aiming to raise awareness of interlinkages of biodiversity and human health and the need to better understand the effects and underlying mechanisms with which tree diversity in temperate forests influences human health and well-being.

On local level, site-specific workshops will be organized together with local forest managers, city council planners, NGOs, public health officials and representatives of the private health sector to promote the human health impacts of biodiversity in forests, refine research questions, and support the formulation of management guidelines. At national scale, Dr. Forest will cooperate with networks of practitioners to boost the dissemination of the projects’ outputs.

At European level, a concluding seminar will focus on opportunities and limitations of integrating forest diversity-related benefits and risks into health and biodiversity policies.

High-level international stakeholders from E.U. institutions and international organisations will be invited to participate in the seminar for which several have already expressed an interest.