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Aerial view of lake and forest

Fighting for the future of forests: ERC Starting Grant awarded for pioneering tree mortality research

Postdoctoral Researcher Samuli Junttila has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant of 1.81 million euros.

His research at the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland addresses the increasing tree mortality caused by extreme weather conditions such as drought and heat.

From space to soil: how remote sensing and deep learning will illuminate the hidden crisis in our forests

The world is facing one of its most pressing ecological challenges: the rapid and widespread mortality of trees due to intensifying environmental conditions. Europe experienced its worst drought in 500 years in 2022, adding urgency to understanding how forests can survive in an era of climate change.

Dr Junttila’s research aims to revolutionise our understanding of how environmental factors drive tree mortality across species and forest biomes. His research will use cutting-edge remote sensing technology and deep learning methods to quantify spatial and temporal tree mortality patterns, covering hundreds of millions of trees across large regions in Europe and the US. The data gathered will be unprecedented in detail, capturing the 3D structure of individual trees as well as their specific environmental conditions.

This groundbreaking research will bring together ecophysiology, remote sensing, forest ecology, and entomology experts. "Our approach will significantly deepen our understanding of the drivers behind forest dieback," says Dr Junttila. "We will combine variables such as tree xylem vulnerability, pest insects, soil temperature, and climate to reveal species-specific environmental thresholds for tree mortality."

Improved knowledge for forest managers and policymakers

The findings from this research will have far-reaching impacts, including providing forest managers and policymakers with vital information to enhance the resilience of future forests. "This is a unique opportunity to make a transformative impact on forest management, particularly in the context of global climate change," adds Dr Junttila.

For further information, please contact:

Samuli Junttila
Postdoctoral Researcher