The project SPONFOREST

The EU ERA-NET BiodivERsA3 research project “Unraveling the potential of spontaneous forest establishment for improving ecosystem functions and services in dynamic landscapes” (SPONFOREST) assembles eight partners from four European countries. Its principal aim is to elucidate the potential of spontaneous forest regrowth (SFR) as a cost-effective and politically feasible tool for reinforcing networks of self-sustaining forests in fragmented rural landscapes. Concretely, the project addresses three major questions:

  • 1. How do new forests establish?
  • 2. Which consequences has the establishment process for their character and functioning?
  • 3. Which ecosystem services do they provide, and how are they perceived and managed by local societies and political governance systems?
project structure

The research of SPONFOREST builds on five case studies located in Mediterranean and temperate landscapes of southwestern Europe. The project integrates a combination of ecological and social science research approaches that are applied in parallel to each study system. Spontaneous forest regrowth is investigated using a broad spectrum of disciplines such as dendroecology, population genetics, functional ecology, demo-genetic modelling, remote sensing, and landscape analysis. The aims of these investigations are to (i) reconstruct the forest establishment process, (ii) identify its main drivers, and (iii) infer its consequences for the functioning of the novel forests. The societal implications of spontaneous forest regrowth are assessed using standardized surveys and in-depth expert interviews with stakeholders and policy makers. These analyses pursue to elucidate (i) the perception of spontaneous forest regrowth by local populations, (ii) demands and current forest management practices by landowners and stakeholders, and (iii) current governance arrangements towards spontaneous forest regrowth.

The findings of SPONFOREST can enhance the explicit integration of spontaneous forest regrowth in landscape management and conservation. They can also guide policies for fostering diverse and multifunctional landscapes in Europe.

SPONFOREST is funded by the ERA-Net BiodivERsA, with the national funders ANR (France), DFG (Germany), MINECO (Spain), and FCT (Portugal) as well as the European Commission in the frame of the 2015 BiodivERsA call for research proposals (



Modification date : 17 August 2023 | Publication date : 23 May 2020 | Redactor : Arndt Hampe