[View from the window of the office at INRAE, Grenoble. Ph.: A. Portaccio]

Walking in others’ shoes

The office I have been assigned when in Grenoble had a view on the mountains that surround the town. I am not used to it. I come from the biggest plain of Italy, where everything is flat, allowing you to scan the horizon very far from where you are. Mountains and hills can be seen, but they always seem so far. In Grenoble I had the sensation I could touch the snowdrifts on the mountain slopes. Mountains do not change, our point of view can.

Everything can be seen from a different perspective. That is one of the take-home messages of the Short-Term Scientific Mission carried out in Grenoble, in February 2020.

Thanks to my host Dr. Yoan Paillet and all the team of researchers involved in the Cost Action, we tried to have a look at forests from different perspectives. We first looked at them from a far away perspective. We looked at Europe, its geography and ecosystems and we selected the data of forests that might be similar from the ecological point of view. Then we looked at forests from the forest ecosystem perspective, asking ourselves of which features we would we be composed if we were a forest. Vertical structure, horizontal structure, volumes and surfaces, deadwood, lights and shades, slopes and aspects.

Walking in others shoes 2We also put ourselves in birds’ shoes: what would make a forest attractive, suitable, comfortable, safe? Birds can be very accurate in their habitat selection: some of them are tightly linked to some elements of the forest, some others need a composition of features to find their niche, some are less choosy when it is time to find a suitable place where to raise the chicks and they are led mainly by general criteria in their selection.

According to the main studies at the European level, forest birds are quite in an acceptable conservation status, in general; but if we investigate details, we will see that forest specialists are become rarer and rarer. This might be due to the lack of some forest feature which are important for certain species.

Bird become therefore good indicators of the quality of a habitat and, since they are quite linked to other animal species too, they can give us an idea of the status of a whole ecosystem.

The methodologies we applied to assess bird diversity in relation to forest structure served as a test of approaches that can be then applied to other taxa or to a mixture of taxa together.

Walking in others shoes 3In the end, after looking at forests from an abstract, an ecosystem and an animal perspective, we went back to the human being point of view. We put ourselves in forest managers’ shoes. Knowing better how a forest looks like and how important it can be for the living species it hosts, we tried to translate the acquired information into indications that could guide us in the sustainable management of forests.

Post by Alessia Portaccio


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