The overwhelming majority of Part 1 covers current and recent research activity at the WSL (the Swiss Federal Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape Research.) In addition, there are links to other related university, institute, etc.
Part 2 is focused on wood related materials research at Empa (the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Science and Technology).
In addition, there are sections on research conducted within EPFL’s (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) Environmental Engineering Institute (IIE) and Plant Ecology Research Laboratory (PERL), the Environmental Engineering Institute in Geneva, and the University of Bern’s School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL).
Swiss state research agencies are organised around the ETH Domain. The ETH Domain is responsible for two federal institutes of technology (ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne) and four research institutes, the Empa, Eawag, PSI, and WSL. The governing umbrella body of the research network is the ETH Board. The federal ministry responsible for the ETH Domain is the Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER).
There are two institutes primarily involved in research into wood,
forestry, timber, and construction and materials science.
These are the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest Snow and Landscape
Research (WSL) and the Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research
ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne, the two Federal Institutes of Technology are in the University research (LUKE link to 4) section.
Originally founded in 1885 as the Central Station for
Experimental Forestry, WSL today is a part of Switzerland’s state funded ETH-Domain,
the federal network of research focused institutions. In 1989, the Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (located in Davos) was
integrated into WSL and the focus areas expanded from forest research to also
include snow, ice and natural hazards research.Headquartered in
Birmensdorf (near Zurich) WSL has been active across Switzerland since its’
foundation. With nearly 550 staff, of which over 300 researchers, WSL runs a
broad spectrum of forest related research activities. In addition, WSL is
mandated by federal legislation to provide a range of national services related
to forests, including running the Swiss National Forest Inventory (NFI), the
Long-term Forest Ecosystem Research Programme, and the Swiss Forest Health
Service, providing technical support for forest plant protection, and
monitoring the Swiss Natural Forest Reserves.
Nearly all forest and wood research activity in Switzerland is conducted either at or in collaboration with the WSL (the Swiss Federal Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape Research.) This section overviews the spectrum of ongoing and recent research undertaken by WSL research community.
WSL research is divided into eleven research units. Each of these research units is composed of a number of research groups. There are four research units largely focusing on forest and wood-based research.
Dynamics Research Unit studies the past, ongoing and projected changes in
composition, patterns and processes in forests affected by both, continuous and
sudden/extreme environmental changes. The research is focused on the
ecosystems’ resistance and resilience with respect to biotic and abiotic
stressors and disturbances.
reconstruct variability in environmental conditions for pre-instrumental times.
The unit provides science-based knowledge on the functioning of forest
ecosystems towards improved concepts for sustainable forest management to
ensure the provision of forest ecosystem services in a changing world. The researchers
are also intensively engaged in the Long-Term Forest Ecosystem Research LWF. As
a basis for the integrative research approach, they rely on a methodological
linkage of long-term monitoring, field surveys, reconstructions, manipulative
experiments and modeling, the basis for working across different temporal and
spatial scales, from seconds to millennia and from cell to ecosystem level,
with this inter disciplinary approach considered a particular strength of the
The research unit includes a number of research
groups as follows:
The group investigates research questions related tophysiological and morphological responses to environmental constraints at cellular, tree and ecosystem level. The research group combines long- (decades) and short-term (minutes to years) measurements for a better understanding of the system’s mechanisms, thresholds, and tipping points under environmental constraints.
Research into forest fires, droughts, and other disturbance events in forest dynamics. Focus includes capacity of forest systems to resist disturbances, to regenerate after drought and the study of the characteristics of tree species. Further research is at the bottom of the groups page here.
Further research is at the bottom of the groups page here.
group is focused on nutrient and carbon fluxes, and the hydrological cycle
within forests, as well as long term health of forest ecosystems. They study carbon
and nutrient biogeochemical cycles over long-term periods, both in field and
lab contexts. In addition, the group researches the quantitative growth of
forests on carbon, nutrients, and water fluxes.
The research field of dendrochronology is mainly focussed on analysing tree rings in order to investigate environmental impacts on tree growth and reconstruct past environmental changes. The main aim is to understand the underlying tree-physiological processes, particularly in relation to the water and carbon cycles. The spatio-temporal scale ranges from minutes to millennia and from cells to ecosystems around the globe. The group’s toolbox includes time series analysis of ring width, x-ray density, stable isotopes and wood cell anatomy. The researchers aim to advance these tools through development of hardware, software and statistical methods.
A good overview of the tree ring sciences and research is on this WSL page here.
Acclimation and environmental memory – ongoing research programme (2020 – 2023) with the objectives of investigating atmospheric warming and drought on short and longer-term adaptive processes in trees, to compare with contrasting time scales of acclimation and their limits and tipping points.
Extreme Impact – research into effects of extreme climate conditions, particularly the summer 2015 drought, on cell-based resolution, such as tree-ring biomass, sapwood conductivity, and water use efficiency on tree growth and wood functioning. Research programme occurred throughout 2020.
Tree Stories– exhibition in
the foyer reception area at WSL focused on their library of tree-rings and
dendrology related research at the institute. For further information, see here.
Research and instruments page for tree-ring research here, and for complete Dendrology related research projects listed see hereand scroll down.
The Research Unit Forest Resources and Managementis active in four main fields: (i) long-term monitoring, analysis, assessment and prognosis of forest resources; (ii) silvicultural interventions to ensure the provision of forest products and services; (iii) optimal utilisation of forest resources in relation to a range of ecosystem services; and (iv) development of related concepts, experiments, methods and models. A major ongoing responsibility is the co-ordination and realisation of the Swiss National Forest Inventory LFIwhich it conducts for and in partnership with the Federal office of the Environment.
The Forest Resources and Managementresearch unit is involved in the monitoring, analysis, and assessment of forest resources, especially timber and carbon sequestration. Its research also focuses on silvicultural interventions, which enhance and optimise forest resources, thus developing and improving modelling and research methodologies. A major ongoing responsibility is the co-ordination and realisation of the Swiss National Forest Inventory (LFI),which it conducts for, and in partnership with, the Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN) see here.
The principal research group focused on metrics, data and
interpretation of Switzerland’s forests, and is therefore closely at the
forefront of the WSL’s ongoing National Forest Inventory work. This includes
analyses of levels of “growing
stock, increment, cut and mortality of wood as well as derived variables such
as biomass, ‘dead wood and carbon’ and forest scenario modelling related to
carbon change, and other future variables.
DivScaling – the scaling of diversity in Swiss forests – the main goal of this project is to develop a much more detailed understanding of the diversity of different Swiss forests, using sample areas as a key variable, along with other factors, primarily through the application of the mathematical instrument of Diversity-area curves. The research is running from 2020 to 2022.
Ecosystem services in forests (SessFor) a study of the future development of forest services over the next half to full century, embedded in a spectrum of future forest and climate scenarios.
Swiss Biomass The aim of this project is to determine the biomass of individual trees
more precisely using non-destructive measurement methods. Such biomass
estimates are central for the greenhouse gas inventory, Kyoto reporting and for
the estimation of wood resources and bioenergy potentials.
N-DEPEND – ‘Nitrogen Deposition Penalty’ for Forests under Drought? This project intends to
test the “N-penalty” hypothesis for the Swiss forests. By statistical
modeling and quasi-experimental analyses based on N deposition estimates,
drought indices and NFI data, we assess interacting effects of N deposition and
drought on forest health and productivity.
Redevelopment of the single tree growth model Massimo Massimo is a distance
independent single tree growth model based on the Swiss National Forest
Inventory network. The modules for growth, mortality, disturbance and
management are based on empirical models fitted with data from the LFI.
Wood harvesting potentials and climate protection services in the Swiss
forest Simulations with the
forest growth model Massimo make it possible to estimate future wood harvesting
potentials and, based on this, to derive climate protection services of the
Swiss forestry and timber industry.
For all research projects see hereand scroll down.
The GIS group is engaged in the application of
Geographical Information Services in the context of a broad panoply of spatial
and temporal data relevant and related to the forests. It includes a number of
sub-groups, including the Virtual Data Centre and the Data Center for Nature
and Landscape, as well as being responsible for maintaining the National Forest
High-resolution soil maps for the Swiss forest – project that adresses a shortfall in soil mapping of the country’s forest areas, aiming to model a comprehensive set of soil maps for the entire Swiss forest area. Soil properties such as pH or soil textures (e.g. sand content) are spatially predicted using a digital soil mapping approach.
MoGLI – modelling woody species in NFI – the MoGLI research project objective is to model the spatial distribution of the most common woody species across the Swissforests. Based on occurrence data from the National Forest Inventory statistical relationships to environmental factors are derived using machine learning algorithms to predict the distribution of tree species. The results of MoGLI are to be used for both theoretical and applied purposes. For all research projects see here and scroll down.
Impacts of ungulate browsing on tree regeneration in Swiss forests – in this project, the temporal development of the influence of wild ungulate species on tree regeneration in Swiss forests is estimated using data from the Swiss National Forest Inventory NFI and density estimates of roe deer, chamois and red deer.
Forest growth and yield research – in over 160 permanent plots in all forest types are followed over time, and the influence of disturbances and silvicultural interventions on forest growth and regeneration is studied. The oldest plots date back to 1887 and give unique insight in long-term forest succession.
For a full list of research see here and scroll down, and for publications see here.
Sustainable forestry here refers to a
research agenda focused on the provision of forest ecosystem services as well
as an efficient use of biomass as a natural resource. This includes investigating
biomass potentials in the context of circular economy and developing
appropriate approaches for optimising the long-term management of forests to
support a sustainable forestry under the environmental and economic challenges
of climate change. Big data is used to provide scientific decision support in
complex planning situations considering uncertainty related to extreme events.
New basics for the forest management planning of staged
forests – based
on forest roads, forest structures and ecosystem services
to be provided, this project will develop new basics for the separation of
management and operation units as a planning basis for mountain and permanent
Optimised forest planning – sustainable and multifunctional forest planning is a complex and demanding task and requires appropriate decision support systems. Here, an optimization model is developed to determine the optimal segregation of management strategies that can best fulfill targeted forest ecosystem services and forest biodiversity (2019-2021).
For all research projects see here and scroll down and for news and information here.
Scientific Service NFI–the Forest Resources and Management unit is
strongly involved in the NFI from its planning phase to the implementation in
the field and the dissemination of results. Alongside the l once in a decade
national and also international reports, the NFI’s work encompasses multiple
tasks ranging from data cataloguing, equipment evaluation, and quality control
oversight, to identifying sustainable forest indicators, developing
web-interfaces The unit work is informed by current research, maintaining
ongoing exchange with science and practice at local, national and international
Bioenergy and circular economy: the biogas plant as a hub (link in German) – focused on the biomass element in anaerobic biogas energy production,
providing more informed qualitative and quantitative data on wet biomass’s
footprint so as to fine tune and advance overall carbon performance (2020 – 2022).
For all research projects see here and scroll down, and see here for news and information.
research unit investigates how properties and functions of forest soils as well
as biogeochemical processes are influenced by external factors such as
pollutants, climate change and forest management. At the micro-scale, the
research unit is developing experimental and analytical approaches to identify
pathways and processes in the soil. Research spans microbial ecology,
nutrient cycles, roots and rhizosphere, site ecology, soil carbon, soil protection
and soil water.
An introduction to the research unit’s
work can be found here.There are three main research groups within the unit are:
Current activities of the FE involve plant-available water measurements along a drought gradient in Switzerland (n=44 sites), real-time measurements of soil water content and plant-available water at the LWF-sites (see Fig.), and modelling of the soil water balance during the 2015 and 2018 drought for the Swiss Forest with LWF-Brook90R. See further Schmidt-Walter, et al, 2020.
SwissSpot: A real-time measurement network for plant-available water at LWF plots.
Research into the rhizosphere – the part of the soil influenced by roots and related symbiotic or associated organisms – investigates the biogeochemical processing and cycling of carbon, nutrients and toxic substances in this biologically highly active zone. While individual biological, chemical and physical soil processes are well understood, the complex interactions among them remain challenging.
Laboratory experiments using soil columns, rhizoboxes and compartment systems are conducted which allow to study different aspects of root-soil interactions in the rhizosphere under controlled conditions. Research projects can be found here(scroll down) and publications here(likewise scroll down).
Roots – a specialist focus on the root systems of underground tree vessels which conduct water and nutrients from the soil into above ground part of the tree. Alongside these functions, they store carbon compounds and help as stable anchors. Research has established that about one third of a forest stand’s biomass (in central European temperate forests) consists of roots.
Research – the goal is to improve
understanding of the biology and ecology of tree roots, develop reliable tools
and methods for identifying and characterising roots, and develop a clearer
understanding and insight into the contribution of tree roots to forest soil
carbon pools and fluxes, as well as their distribution in the soil and impacton
For publications see hereand scroll down
focus on monitoring the reactions of soil solution chemistry of near-natural
ecosystems (particularly forests) to air pollution, climate change or forest
Research – Soil Solution provides water
and nutrient resources to plants and trees and is therefore vital to forests’
health. We are investigating carbon and nutrient dynamics in soils and
specifically on the acidification of soil water and the leaching of nitrate and
DOC from forest soils.
Soil carbon – the capacity of soils to store carbon dioxide means it is a significant element in the global carbon cycle. The group works on refining understanding in research of soils’ interaction with forests and the carbon cycle.
Research – includes
understanding and quantifying the levels of carbon in Swiss forest soils, the
effects of climate change, and the ways in which atmospheric CO2 influences
soil carbon dynamics in forests.
Soil protection– research on the main issues around soil functions and effects on soil fertility. This includes research into the impacts of forest harvesting on soil, risk assessment for erosion and landslides, plus ecological risks, and the relationship between changes in land use, such as afforestation and litter on soil properties and functions.
Microbial ecology – research on how soil biodiversity is altered by global change (e.g. warming, drought, land use, management practice, pollution), and subsequently how these changes affect long-term ecosystem functioning.
Research includes understanding of microbial-driven processes, such as carbon and nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem functioning in natural and managed soils in particular CryoLink link in German – (2017-2021), exploring the permafrost in the Alps, the Arctic and the Antarctic for microbial life forms.
Nutrient cycles – research into nutrient cycles, including the input of sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorus from anthropogenic into natural ecosystems, and their effects on soil formation and fertility, including effects on forest nutrient balances and soil acidification. A major problem is that increased nitrogen deposition has enriched the environment. Plant species that are used to growing in nutrient-poor environments are no longer competitive against nitrogen-demanding plant species and are replaced by those species.
Nutrient cycles in forests – is on the effects of nutrient input changes on terrestrial ecosystems (including forests). This includes the intensive monitoring parts of the WSL’s Long-Term Forest Ecosystem Research Programme (LWF). Together with the annual Sanasilva-Inventory recording state of forest health on a representative pan-European grid since 1985, the research on nutrient cycles within LWF is part of the International Cooperative Programme on the Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests) under the Auspices of the UNECE Air Convention. In this context, environmental drivers such as atmospheric deposition of sulphur and nitrogen or climate changes and their effects on the ecosystem are investigated in order to establish cause-effect relationships. This includes the continuous monitoring of the flow of substances within the nutrient cycles at selected sites across the country since 1994 or later, recording and analysing nutrient inputs entering the forest ecosystem through the atmosphere and their effects on leaves and needles, soil vegetation, soil solution, tree growth and the forest health conditions. See here and scroll down.
Forest Health and Biotic Interactions – this research
unit is the most closely involved in researching the relationships between living
organisms and the health of Swiss forests, and their protection mainly from biotic
threats. The research unit has dual functions of conducting fundamental and
applied research on native and non-native invasive forest pests and pathogens
as well as providing surveillance and diagnostic services of pests and pathogens.
In addition, the Forest Health and Biotic
Interactions unit’s focus includes research on the role of climate change, drought
and wind storms in the epidemiology of pests and pathogens. In this context,
the unit provides expertise relevant for pest and disease management and this
is underpinned by specialised facilities including high-security molecular
diagnostic and research laboratories and a high-security greenhouse, so that non-native
organisms can be dealt with appropriately. A further focus is on forest
biodiversity and relationships with forest health. Given the expected increase
in non-native invasive species and abiotic disturbances, the research seeks to
anticipate as well respond to novel biotic challenges.
Swiss Forest Protection Waldschutz Schweiz (WSS) – the competence centre for forest protection is the first stop contact point for help with tree and health issues. It provides diagnostic advice and outreach to the general public regarding forest protection, supports cantons and regions in surveys concerning forest pests and diseases and assists with higher education bodies and student cohorts.
Phytopathology – tasked with research on tree pathogens– particularly exotic non-native species – which can affect ecosystems services and biodiversity aspects of forests. Current research focuses on sweet chestnut blight and Phytophthora diseases. The phytopathology research group uses genetic and epidemiological methods to gain insights into the biology of tre-pathogen interactions and provides scientific bases for disease diagnostics and management as well as pest risk analysis.
For Scientific publications see here and for Outreach publications see here.
Forest Entomology – this research group has a central role in forest entomology and forest protection research and focuses on trophic interactions between host tree, pest species and their antagonists as well as interactions between insects and plant pathogens. This involves important native forest pests, such as bark beetles, as well as invasive species. Another focus is on the dynamics of insect biodiversity and multitrophic interactions in forests at different spatial and temporal scales with the aim of defining the role of biodiversity in the stability and resilience of ecosystems. Furthermore, conservation-related questions about biodiversity and the fate of endangered species under global change are addressed.
Promoting insect biodiversity in Swiss forests – a synthesis (FIBS) – research on various aspects of forest biodiversity and relationships between forest pests and their antagonists have been conducted in the forest entomology group in the last decades. This includes responses to natural disturbances, ie, windthrows and forest fires, as well as climate change and forest management. The FIBS research seeks to provide a substantive overview of these findings complemented with results from international research and derive recommendations for action. (2020-2021.)
RESISTASH: Resistance mechanisms of ash to ash dieback and the emerald ash borer –with ash dieback (ADB) currently decimating ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) in many European countries, including in Switzerland, there is an urgent need for studies on ash resistance. This is reinforced by new threats such as the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive beetle which, is currently spreading from Russia towards Switzerland. In a joint project between the WSL and IAP nationwide ash dieback monitoring across the country is established. This will be used to conduct research on ADB and EAB-resistant or tolerant varieties of ash and develop techniques to determine resistance of ash genotypes to ADB and EAB in the field– research period 2020 – 2022.
Effects of Douglas fir on biomass decomposition and organisms involved – Douglas fir as a non-native productive tree species which is likely to be increasingly planted in the next decades in Switzerland, because native species such as beech, spruce and fir increasingly suffer from climate change effects. The ecological consequences of planting Douglas fir are, however, not sufficiently understood. This collaborative research with HAFL – see here – and the University of Göttingen compares decomposition processes of wood and litter and the involved organisms across a variety of forest types in eight regions of Switzerland. The ultimate goal is to assess the consequences of planting Douglas fir for biomass decomposition and functional biodiversity and to provide recommendation for the use of Douglas-fir in Swiss forestry.
For all research projects and publications see here and scroll down. For publications see here.
Further research units
Land Change Sciences – research on land use
impacts on ecosystems and landscapes, including in forests and woodlands.
Social Sciences – concerned with themes related to the economic,
institutional and societal dimensions of the
Institutes work and research, with specific foci on landscape, natural
resources, spatial development, and natural hazards, through three core
For the institute’s projects see here and
scroll down and publications see here.
Community Ecology – the Community Ecology group’s Mountain Ecosystems theme include research focused on drivers and effects of ongoing changes in mountain forest ecosystems. A particular focus of the group is on the protection effect of mountain forest on natural hazards and on changes in treeline ecosystems.
Other WSL associated research and organisations
with its research units, the WSL is connected to a cross section of related
forest project. as the principal research body, lead organiser, or in other
associated ways. These include:
Swiss Forest Lab Network of forest research establishments which are working together on a spectrum of research themes, pooling shared knowledge bases, technical field and research sites, and other lab and monitoring facilities across the network’s membership. The SFL network was founded in 2017 and includes faculty and researchers from the ETH Universities of Zurich, Basel and Bern, as well as by the WSL, all of which provide funding support.
Research priorities include climate
change, forest biodiversity, and how changes in forest use affect ecosystem
services. Research projects which the SFL are involved in can be found here.
National Forest Inventory (LFI) assesses the condition of and changes in the
Swiss forest. Data on trees, tree stands, sample plots and data from the survey
of the local forest service are collected in Switzerland with a systematic
is conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape
Research WSL in collaboration with the Forest Division of the Federal Office
for the Environment (FOEN). WSL is responsible for planning, data collection,
analysis, and scientific interpretation; FOEN is responsible for forest policy
The inventory was first conducted in 1983-1985 (LFI1), followed by three additional surveys in 1993-1995 (LFI2), 2004-2006 (LFI3), and 2009-2017 (LFI4). Since 2009, data have been collected continuously over a nine-year period. Currently, the fifth inventory is underway in 2018-26 (LFI5)
The most recent (2009-2017) inventory
report can be accessed here (in German.)
EnviDat is the WSL data portal. The
portal covers all WSL’s activities including forest focused research and other
It is intended as a data set and
information sharing platform for researchers across the world, set up to enable
publishing, connecting and searching across its data resources, while not being
source to original research. The portal includes significant amounts of WSL’s
environmental monitoring, including long-term monitoring stretching back to the
In order to ensure reliable data about
changes in Swiss forests, the Long term Forest Ecosystem Research (LWF)
programme has been managing 19 permanent and regularly monitored forest sites
since 1994. Data and other information from these sites have assisted in long-term
studies, in both the Swiss and international context.
LWF long-term projects can be found here, then scroll down.
is a network of drought and growth tree measurement instruments providing live
data on how forest ecologies are responding to changes in climate. Using Point
dendrometers to record stem radius fluctuations in trees
across the country indicates tree physiology information, including tree water
deficit, wood growth, and related indicators, which can then be studied by the
The trees providing the data, alongside other information about each site, can be found here.
TreeNet tree network map and right Dendrometer sensor tech attached to an oak at the Chamoson Le Grugnay, VS site – Image and Photo TreeNet
TreeNet is a collaboration between the WSL’s Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, the Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN), ETH Z and the Institute of Applied Plant Biology and the University of Basel.
research lab facility at WSL’s Birmensdorf main centre the MODOEK lab was
instituted in 1992. Consisting of 16 glass walled open top chambers, each with
sliding roofs, and fitted with semi-hemispherical lysimeter measuring devices. The
facility covers 6 m2 with an above and below ground cubic meterage
of 20 m3 and 2 x 4.5 m3. Adjacent, open spaces of a
similar 6 m2 are also available.
MODOEK allows manipulative experiments under ambient conditions (open air), where seedlings are being exposed to different soil water availability, nutrient and air temperature levels to study the mechanisms of tree response to future climate change scenarios.
information regarding the facility is here.
WSL Birmensdorf experimental garden – as a part of the WSL’s research support infrastructure, the gardens primarily provide guidance on the use of the WSL’s facilities (greenhouses, climatic rooms, observation stations, equipment and machinery), to breed plants for scientific purposes and the promotion of biodiversity and to provide professional seed procurement and procession (seed centre). With its seed centre, the garden is a supplier of high-quality Swiss forest seeds. The aim is to contribute to the conservation and promotion of rare tree species for the benefit of biodiversity in Swiss forest ecosystems.
Further climate change information related work at the WSL
The following two sections provide ways into WSL’s work on two themes immediately relevant to the future of 21st century forests. These are i) Forests and climate change, and ii) Biodiversity, conservation and primeval forests.
Over the last 30 years the WSL have been increasingly focused on climate change. This section overviews the work and research currently underway related to climate change impacts on Swiss forests, woods and tree species. In addition, the WSL highlight a number of themes which it is also focused on. These include i) Soils and cycles, and ii) Diseases, pests and disturbances. A full list is in WSL’s main Forest section – here.
Forest and climate change research
Research is focused on anticipating how rising and drier temperatures in the Alps – meaning drier summers and warmer winters – will affect Swiss forests and the country’s different tree species. Beech and spruce are thought likely to become increasingly stressed by drier, warmer weather, and much of the research is towards understanding the adaptation of Swiss forests, and the implications of introducing new, hardier species over the coming decades. Research stations are often used in Valais as the canton is the driest in the federation.
A significant amount of this research agenda is in
partnership with other institutions including ETH Zurich, the University of
Basel, and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), with whom the WSL has formed the
Swiss Forest Lab umbrella
Both ongoing and recent research is split into three core sub-categories: i) Forest and climate change, ii) Forest and drought, and iii) the Tree Line.
i) Forest and climate change
Forêt et changement climatiques(pdf in French) – a major piece of research undertaken between 2009 and 2018. With forest development driven by increased climatic stress and by the levels trees were able to adapt, the research concluded that future forest health will depend on stand properties and site conditions, and that maintaining forest services to society will require taking adaptive measures, e.g., introducing new more resilient tree species.
Experimental plantations of tree species adapted to future climates – ongoing (2018 – 2038) research, based on a network of 59 experimental plantations of tree species being established throughout Switzerland. The suitability of 18 tree species, with 7 seed origin (provenances) each, to sustain future climates is studied for several decades across large environmental gradients. The objective of the experimental plantations is to establish the factors contributing to the growth, health and mortality of tree species and provenances, as basis for tree species recommendations for the forestry sector.
PorTree – Environmental Portfolio of Central European Trees – this research (completed in 2014) developed maps of future climatic suitability for all major tree species, as well as those anticipated to benefit in a warming climate across the Alps, projecting a spectrum of consequences for trees across a range of future climate change scenarios, and assisting provision of adaptive parameters to this environmental portfolio of Central European tree species. The final report can be found here.Other WSL climate change research– for a complete list of ongoing and recent WSL research scroll to the bottom of the page.
ii) Forest and drought
The influence of drought has been a research focus of the
WSL for thirty years. At present the research institute is conducting a number
of research projects to increase the understanding and knowledge of warming and
drier climates on forests and tree species. The WSL has been leading long term
research, primarily in the Valais canton with distressed Scots’ pine since the
nineteen nineties. Research into individual tree species has also expanded into
entire ecosystems, through a long-term Forest Ecosystem Research Programme.
Long term irrigation experiment in Pfynwald, Valais – due to the low precipitation of about 650 mm per year and the naturally grown and homogeneous Scots’ pine stand and is one the only Swiss and Scot’s pine forests in the country. The Pfynwald, which was seriously affected by drought in the 1990s, with two thirds of trees dying in some parts of the wood between 1996 and 2004, therefore provides ideal conditions for studying in situ medium- to long-term effects of drought on forests. The experimental area of 1.2 ha with 876 trees is divided into eight plots of 1,000 m2 each. Since 2003, four plots have been irrigated with sprinklers between April and October and receive an additional 650 mm of water annually, thus doubling the natural precipitation. The trees in the other four plots grow under natural, dry conditions. The soon to be 20-year large-scale irrigation experiment in the Pfynwald, with its over 100-year-old natural stand in one of the regions of Europe with the lowest precipitation, is unique in the world and has for years provided valuable results for assessing the resilience of Swiss forests to varying degrees of drought.
CaNuPine – the project
CaNuPine investigated the physiological mechanisms of carbon and nutrient
dynamics underlying the drought-induced decline of Scots pine towards a more
profound understanding on how trees deal with their carbon reserves in periods
of drought under the consideration of nutrient availability on tree
The experimental set up
within the WSL Model Ecosystem Facility (MODOEK) allowed us to study the
effects of different drought intensities under varying nutrient availability on
pine saplings. The study was conducted from 2015 to 2018.
For other forest and drought related research see hereand scroll down.
BuKlim: European Beech in a changing climate– – the BuKlim project investigates whether Swiss beech trees at their natural distribution limits in the Rhone and Rhine valleys have adapted to the drought conditions there. In both valleys, autochthonous beech stands were selected along pronounced precipitation gradients. Progeny were taken from mother trees of these beech stands and transplanted into the WSL Model Ecosystem Facility (MODOEK), where seedling responses to a simulated climate with elevated temperature and severe drought was studied. By comparing the response patterns of beech from wet and dry sites, we can demonstrate adaptations to drought and help clarifying whether it is possible to select suitable beech provenances or seed stocks in Switzerland that have an increased tolerance to future climatic changes. BuKlim ran from 2012 to 2014.
For other forest and drought related research see hereand scroll down.
iii) Tree line Research
Alongside drought, the high-altitude limit of forests is one of the most
conspicuous transitions between vegetation types worldwide. As changes in the
tree line position have significant implications for mountain ecosystems,
understanding the factors that influence survival and growth of trees at their
upper elevation limit has become an increasingly significant part of research.
The Stillberg experimental afforestation site is the largest and longest
lasting study on drivers of ecological processes at tree line worldwide. In
1975, three of the most widespread tree species in the tree line ecotones of
the European Alps, Cembran pine, mountain pine and European larch, were planted
at a systematic design and have been closely monitored for the last 45 years.
The afforestation site covers an altitudinal gradient that extends to 2230m above
sea level which provides the opportunity to study how trees perform above the
existing tree line. Investigating planted trees enables us to study the effects
of environmental factors on tree growth and survival alone, excluding the
environmental filters of seed production and seedling establishment.
Consisting of 9 tree-growth monitoring
sites distributed along an elevational gradient from 800 to 2200 m, monitoring
has been ongoing from 2006 up until this year and includes reporting the
continuous stem growth of naturally growing mature Norway Spruce and European
Larch trees. In parallel there are
sub-hourly measurements of radial growth, sap flow, air and soil temperature,
relative humidity, soil water content, soil matrix potential, and solar
radiation at each site, plus other data recordings. Data is applied to further
model potential future forest ecosystems scenarios and better understand forest
growth responses to extreme events.
For other forest and drought related research hereand scroll down.
Nearly all Switzerland’s forests and
woodlands are relatively young, stretching back at most 250 years, with very
few old growth or natural (virgin or primary) forests.
The lack of biodiversity in Swiss
forests began to be recognised in the 1970’s and 80’s and in the early 1990’s
the Federal Government responded with a ‘forest biodiversity’ strategy to
support unmanaged forests and woodlands, , which if left unmanaged could
receive further grants and financial support
to be left to grow naturally. Today
these are classified Natural Forest Reserves. There are now over 800 natural
forest sites, equivalent to 46,000 hectares or 3.5% of the total Swiss forest
cover. A map of the reserves monitoried by WSL is here.
These conservation and biodiversity
themes are drawn together under the WSL’s Biodiversity, conservation and
primeval forest’s theme. Researchers from several of the WSL’s research
units contribute to these themes, including Forest Resource and Management
Stand Dynamics and Silviculture, Biodiversity and Conservation Biology and
Natural Forest Reserves – the core work has been monitoring forest
succession and deadwood in natural forest reserves. This research started
around 1948 at ETH Zurich and has been conducted since 2006 in partnership between
WSL, ETH-Z and FOEN. The goal is to monitor and appraise the effectiveness of the
Natural Forest Reserves Strategy. Since 2017, the monitoring addresses also the
diversity of wood-inhabiting insects and fungi in forest reserves and nearby
Primeval Forests and Biodiversity– a collaborative research project with Ukrainian Research Institutions Ukraine’s Carpathian region is still home to more than 200 km2 of primeval forests, with a significant proportion in the Carpathian Biosphere reserve, including the 100 km2 Uholka-Shyrokyi Luh primary forest, the largest primeval forest of European beech.
The research collaboration, which began
in 1999, has focused on scientific collaboration, carrying out joint projects,
including investigation of the two countries’ primeval and natural forests. The
objective is to network, nurture and harmonise research and inventory
approaches, and to highlight and raise awareness of this remaining primeval
A research paper comparing the Zurich
Sihlwald with the Carpathian primeval forest is here.
Research priorities are focused on the impact and consequences of biodiversity loss on ecosystem functions and services, and implications of climatic stress on plants and trees across different climatic systems.
Magnitude and drivers of trait plasticity in European forests – focused on expanding research knowledge regarding phenotypic plasticity, the ability of vegetal plants and trees to adapt with changes in the environment, for instance in above ground, photosynthetic properties, and below ground, roots’ properties, across the spectrum of many European tree species.
The ECOS laboratory is a joint professorship with the WSL, focused on dynamics and relations of different communities – terrestrial plant, animal, and microbial – to ecosystem processes, combining field research, lab and field experiments, and ecological modelling. Research is divided into three branches i) the Impact of Climate Change, ii) Ecosystem Functioning, and iii) Ecosystem Management and Restoration, with an emphasis on biotic interactions.
Research project focus
i)Impact of Climate Change on Ecosystems – (link in French) – research into the consequences of climate change on the functioning and adaptability of a variety of ecosystems, including wooded pastures and forests. Focus includes field research into impacts of higher temperatures and changes in water regimes, nutrient cycles, levels of diversity, and other ecosystems services.
iii) Ecosystem Management and Restoration– studying the
effects of various restoration and management projects and their effectiveness
in revitalising ecosystem dynamics and soil health. Projects are potentially
worldwide including research into slash and burn cultivation in Madagascar.
Within the Bern Fachhochschule’s Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences school, forest and forestry related research is carried out by the Area Multifunctional Forest Management Institute, which comprises three strands: i) Forest Production, ii) Mountain Forests, Natural Hazards, and GIS, and iii) Forest Policy and International Forest Management.
Forest Production – research is focused on forest economics and business management issues, including optimising efficiencies in harvest and supply.
Research projects include:
CARE4C – Carbon smart forestry under climate change – the objective is to broaden knowledge on the dynamics of forest carbon sinks. The approach includes monitoring climate influenced carbon sequestration across different forest types, at the cell, organ, tree and landscape levels (2018 – 2021).
WHFF – Radar LiDAR forest roads (link in German) – research into forest related road infrastructure, specifically load bearing capacities and vehicle sensor data, enabling a more advanced understanding of forest roads, which assists in developing maintenance strategies (2020 – 2022).
For all research projects, see here and scroll down.
Mountain Forests, Natural Hazards and GIS – the research group focuses on improving sustainable mountain forests management, and forests at risk from rockfall, land and mudslides, and flooding. The group’s approach includes an emphasis on natural forest regeneration.
Research projects include:
DROFEBOR (link in German) – tree level drone-based recording of bark beetle attacks through analysis of spectral signatures of healthy and unhealthy spruce. The project adds to the suite of approaches attempting to mitigate the dire consequences of bark beetle disease. This has so far has primarily relied on satellite images, which are ineffective when looking for ground level data and information (2020 – 2022).
Forest as a slope debris breaker (link in German) – research into influence of various different forest structures on shallow landslides and mudslides, as part of developing reference values of Sustainability and Success Control in Protective Forest(NaiS) guidance, through lab-based modelling of slope debris and with simulation tools, providing case studies for use in the guidance (2020 – 2022).
CfP21 LandslidePredict (link in German) – a model developing digital instruments for land and mudslide forecasts, applying Big Data and radar-based precipitation measurements to be added to the Joint Information Platform for Natural Hazards (GIN) platform (2021 – 2021).
For all research projects, see here and scroll down.
Forest Policy and International Forest Management – specialist group split between Swiss and international arenas. The Swiss focus is on practice-oriented research and guidance across both fields, including timber management policy, the relationship between forest and society, spatial and forest planning, and ecosystem services in urban contexts. The international focus concerns forest landscape restoration, adaptation, and mitigation of forests in relation to climate change, agroforestry, and global forest policy.
Tree biomass in the Swiss non-forest area – research into greenhouse gases, emissions, and levels of tree biomass across areas of Switzerland which are not forest covered, employing aircraft-based laser scanning (LiDAR) in partnership with WSL (2018-2024).
There are two primary department
research labs focused on wood materials R&D, Timber Structures, and
Cellulose and Wood Materials – see below. In addition, the NEST Demonstrator
project incorporates wood-based research. Further wood related research projects can be found across Empa although
research is focused on the two principal wood materials R&D labs.
Timber Structures within the Structural Engineering Research Lab (itself part of the Engineering Sciences Department).
The NEST modular building and technologies project involves both university research groups and industry sector partners.
The focus of the Structural Engineering
Research Lab’s Timber Structures research is serviceability, ultimate resistance,
and deformation capacity. Research is across many different wood species alone
or in combination with other materials. Connections are also a significant part
of the research.
resistant timber structures for multi-story buildings – behaviour of multi storey timber structures, joints
and wall elements in medium scale earthquakes and strong winds. Given relative
low seismicity, experiments on OSB-sheathed light-frame shear walls with strong
anchorage demonstrated greater potential for multi-storey light frame timber
Slabs made of
cross-laminated timber panels in composite action with non-reinforced concrete – further development of composite CLT/concrete slabs.
Strength, stiffness and failure modes of beam elements in bending, and
optimisation of number, positioning and shapes of shear connections.
behaviour and reliability of connections in timber structures – research on high performance timber trussed structures
in terms of reliability and robustness of members and connections with
dowel-type fasteners in slotted in steel plate connections under static
loading. Objective includes system-based design concepts, which integrate
structural performance and reliability.
and Wood Materials – within the Functional Materials Lab
significant part of the lab’s mission is to uncover, test and realise new
high-performance wood-based materials. For this, Cellulose and Wood Materials
work with wood and bio-based polymers, nanoparticles, and colloids, assembling
and combining the repertoire of available materials in lab conditions, as part
of the R&D of developing prospective new construction materials. A number
of these experimental materials are used in and are being tested in the Vision
Wood NEST project – see below.
Machine learning optimisation of wood’s
properties. Research in the Cellulose and Wood materials lab has been using
machine learning to gain otherwise inaccessible understanding of wood’s
properties, strengths, and weaknesses. Running machine learning AI processes
large amounts of data relating to the density, moisture content, fibre
direction and annual ring position of the raw wood can be intensively
interpreted so that the wood’s use can be adapted and modified for many
otherwise impossible uses.
Wood Solutions, a spin off company out of Empa’s
activities has been launched and initial products including Sonowoodare being promoted for making musical
instruments, and at the same time replacing rare ebony woods traditionally used
in the making of musical instruments. Other uses of SWS’s materials include
wood based smart cards.
Cellulose Biohybrids– engaged in developing new, renewable, functionable, cellulose-based biomaterials. The principal strategy is combining new insights into single cellulose particle structure and colloidal assembly, with applied research, into new materials. The focus of the Cellulose Biohybrids group is hung around three core strands of work, printed cellulose materials and devices, cellulose biohybrid materials, and cellulose for cultural heritage.
Wood – the research focus is on microorganisms
including wood inhabiting fungi, algae and bacteria, working at the biochemical
and nanoparticle, etc levels.
Research projects include:
Mycowood: improved acoustic properties for violins (scroll down) – this research set out to improve the quality of tone wood. A particular fungi, applied in lab-controlled conditions, was found to reduce the wood’s density while not degrading the wood’s cellulose walls and increasing the radiating tones. The modified wood resulting from these lab-based processes has been named Mycowood. Experimental ‘mycowood’ violins have been made from the wood and subsequent experiments have shown the instruments’ contrasting psycho-acoustic properties. A spin off commercial company has now been set up. A media release explains Mycowood in more detail here.
down)– for this
experimental research the cellulose biohybrid group are working towards
creating a biodegradable bio-battery. Through combining a mix of nanomaterials,
a wood based white rot fungi and freshwater algae, biochemical processes are
precipitated in the symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae which
enhances its conductive properties.
trans-disciplinary group combine expertise in wood technology, biochemistry,
and machine learning to develop high tech approaches to advance and broaden the
usage of wood. This is done through bio-modification, new wood coatings, and
bonding to the application of machine learning algorithms to wood sector
WoodTec4+ – Development and implementation of machine learning algorithms, analysis of big data produced by the wood industry
This is the latest iteration of the WoodTec research which engages in Big Data and AI. The research looks at effective approaches to apply machine learning to wood materials, structures, and construction, particularly the breadth of variability within wood materials and their properties. The research is specifically investigating wood grading and its potential for improvement into more exacting and precise classes.
Broader parameters, including mechanical properties can be tested quantitively, with greater precision and at higher speeds, aiming to improve techniques at grading strengths of wood through a neural network of machine learning. For other research projects see the main page here and scroll down.
The unusual multistorey test building is split into a series of discreet micro-building sub-sections on and within the building’s different levels. Each micro-building sub-section is one of the test NEST projects. Of the five research sub-sections, two are relevant to timber related research, Vision Wood and DFAB House. For information covering DFAB House, see within the ETH Zurich section and scroll down to research projects here.
Wood section – centre 2nd floor – plan of where experimental
materials have been positioned – Images – Empa/NEST
Wood – designed
around a (future) housing unit for three people, Vision
Wood is a
multi-focused research project into new wood materials, technologies, and
building products. It is also a live living research project, with two
researchers actually living in the modular unit to test how and what works, how
well and to what degree. The materials, technologies and products are in
partnership with different Empa research groups, companies, and other research
hubs, and include:
Hydrophobic wood (scroll down) – produced with a thin metal
oxide layer, waterproofing the wood surfaces and enabling it to be used with
and exposed to water, including a prototype wood sink, without risk of decay or
Magnetic Wood(scroll down) – by integrating nanoscale magnetic
particles into the grain of wood, a magnetic field is created, with the wood
Beech plywood (scroll down) The Vision Wood micro-building
showcases Empa and beech producer Fagus Suisse researched ‘slender but strong’
structural beech CLT panels within the building.
For all Vision Wood related research publications see here.
New wood materials Binder Reduced wood fibre
insulation (left) and Hydrophobic wood (centre) and Magnetic wood (right) –
Photos – Empa
For a full overview of materials, technologies, and other information, see NEST’s main Vision Wood page – here and scroll down. An overview of the Vision Wood project can be found hereand a short promotional video here(with English sub-titles).