The Dr.FOREST project is comprised of seven Work Packages (WPs, WP0 dedicated for Project management). All WPs and Tasks are handled by teams composed of both natural and medical scientists, ensuring interdisciplinary collaborations and synergies across both fields. Each empirical WP will engage one PhD student, thus working in a truly interdisciplinary setting.
WP1: Psychological restoration Leaders: Marselle (iDiv), Schröger (UL)
Green spaces can improve human well-being, but the specific role that biodiversity has on mental health and well-being, and the mechanisms underlying these relationships, are little explored (7). As both visual and auditory nature stimuli can have positive effects on mental health and well-being (7), the specific form of nature contact as the sensory pathway –visual and auditory − through which biodiversity is experienced, can have implications for public health interventions (10, 21).
- To assess the relationships between forests of different tree diversity on mental health and well-being through visual and auditory contact with forest biodiversity.
- To assess the “restoring capacities” mechanisms (e.g. cognition, perceived stress) that underlie the effects of contact with tree diversity on mental health and well-being.
WP2: Microclimate, medicinal and edible plants and fungi. Leaders: Muys (KUL), Kiss (MUWAR)
Thanks to their buffered microclimate forests are privileged places to visit or to reside (26). In summer, forests protect people from extreme midday temperatures, through shading and evapotranspirative cooling. In winter, forests protect from frost and sharp cold winds through their spatial distribution of biomass, breaking winds and preventing heat loss to the atmosphere. How these effects are mediated by forest biodiversity hasn ́t been studied yet (16). Collecting berries, mushrooms and medicinal plants has been a traditional subsistence and health-care activity in forested regions and has now become a popular recreational experience (e.g.27). Such non-wood forest food products (NWFPs) have a nutritional value with a specific taste and flavour, and berries and medicinal plants are commonly used in traditional and modern medicine, as they contain a high diversity of active substances (28, 29). To our knowledge, the effect that tree diversity has on the abundance and nutritional value of such forest products is unknown.
- To assess forest microclimate characteristics relevant for forest visitors and compare them between forests of differing diversity in different sites.
- To assess whether forest visitors appreciate the microclimate concurrent with the measurements.
- To assess the potential for collecting berries, mushrooms and medicinal plants along tree diversity and site gradients in Europe.
WP3: Disease vectors. Leaders: Jactel (INRA), Panning (ALUFR)
Caterpillars of some forest defoliators, like oak processionary moth, pose serious human health problems by releasing urticating setae (hair), which can cause dermatitis and allergenic reactions (e.g. acute respiratory distress, oedemas and even anaphylactic shocks, 31). Outbreaks often lead to the closure of forests and parks for safety reasons. Many studies have shown that mixed-species forests are less prone to forest insect damage than tree monocultures due to higher host tree dilution, and more effective control by natural enemies (e.g. 32, 33), but whether this results in lower abundance of urticating caterpillars is unclear.
- To quantify the effects of tree diversity on physical human health through exposure to disease vectors in different climatic regions of Europe.
- To decipher the underlying mechanisms by evaluating the bottom up (dilution of host trees) vs. top down (control by predators) effects of tree diversity on reducing abundance and performance of urticating caterpillars and ticks.
WP4: Clean air. Leaders: Godbold (BOKU), Haluza (MedUniVienna)
Airborne pollutants such as ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM) -both abiotic (PM2.5, 10) and biotic (pollen) -are a major cause of lung and heart disease in Europe (41). Pollen from trees like birch and hazel are important allergens. It has been postulated that increasing the biodiversity of green areas could reduce allergenic pollen load by up to 30%, but no scientific evidence for the effectiveness of such measures are given(42, 43). Urban trees and forests are also effective filters for O3and PM(44). The effectiveness of trees to trap PM and pollen is governed by leaf area index and leaf surface properties (45). Ozone uptake is related to both stomatal and non-stomatal mechanisms(46). The air cleaning effect of trees thus seems to depend strongly on leaf and canopy structure, but whether it is influenced by tree species diversity and architectural trait diversity is unknown.
- To assess the influence of tree species identity and diversity on depletion of O3, UV protection and PM binding in rural and urban environments.
- To compare concentrations of allergenic pollen between monocultures and mixtures, and to assess whether patients with pollen allergies show lower allergy symptoms in mixed forests.
WP5: Synthesis and health-impact assessment. Leaders: Verheyen (UGent), Bonn (iDiv)
- To synthesize the results for quantification of the impact of forest biodiversity on multiple health risks and benefits, and to reveal forest composition-mediated trade-offs and synergies.
- To apply the knowledge gained from three urban forests (Case Studies) and to calculate the changes in health risk and benefits under various stakeholder defined forest diversification scenarios.
WP6: Communication & Knowledge Exchange. Leaders: Kilpi (BOS+), Schraml (ALUFR)
- To inform stakeholders and other interested parties about the project and its progress.
- To involve local stakeholders through the organisation of workshops in the Case Study sites for WP5.
- To organise and moderate a high-level international stakeholder meeting focusing on opportunities and limitations of integrating forest diversity-related risks and benefits into health and biodiversity policies.