Pål Thorvaldsen

Research Scientist

(+47) 406 21 869


Visiting address
Parkveien, 8861 Tjøtta


The combined impact of climate and land-use change poses increasing threats to nature and nature's benefit to people. The LandPress project makes use of the severe Norwegian winter-drought in 2014 as a case study; and combines geographical, ecological and social science approaches to explore the drivers of ecosystem resilience to drought die-back, the ecological processes and implications of drought responses, and management options for mitigating damage and costs. First, by means of remote sensing, we assess the role of climate, environment and land-use in regulating resilience of Calluna heaths to drought die-back locally and along a biogeographic gradient. We find that drought-damage in heather varies across landscapes, and can be quantified by aerial photos, allowing us to establish that both environment (slope) and land-use (prescribed fire) influence ecosystem resistance to drought. Second, we conduct a drought experiment to understand and assess the impacts of severe drought events on coastal heathland ecosystem dynamics and functioning. After the three first years we find only weak effects on plant communities, but distinct responses in plant functional traits suggesting that ecosystem resistance to drought decreases with time since the last prescribed fire. Third, we experimentally assess whether prescribed burning can be used to promote Calluna's resilience after severe drought, and find that prescribed burning efficiently removes damaged heather, stimulating post-fire vegetation development and restore ecosystem functioning after drought. Finally, we conduct a cost-benefit analysis to understand the contribution of land management to the provision of ecosystem services, with focus on securing low fire-risk landscapes. We find that management has more benefits than food production; land-use can reduce the extent of extreme drought, reduce fire risk and help us keep the ecosystem functioning. Our project demonstrates the importance of understanding how interactions between climate-change and land-use and is crucial in developing new management strategies.


Changes in land-use and climate represent major threats to Atlantic heathlands, and extreme climatic events, such as droughts, are likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the future. This is of particular relevance for nature management, and conservation, as extreme events are expected to have system-wide impacts on species and ecosystems. During the winter of 2014 an intense drought combined with low temperatures resulted in a massive dieback of Calluna vulgaris in the Norwegian heathlands, and two severe heathland wildfires occurred. With this as a background, a new Norwegian research project: Land use management to ensure ecosystem service delivery under new societal and environmental pressures in heathlands (LandPress) were initiated. LandPress combines observational data on ecosystem responses and resilience after the 2014 event with targeted experiments, one of them the International Drought Experiment, integrating our project into an international context. Drought impacts in mature Calluna-stands is investigated along a 650-km latitudinal gradient in Norway. Our first results indicate more drought damage in northern heathlands than in southern. Healthy Calluna was only observed in scattered patches with more suitable micro-climate, and, interestingly, in some areas regenerating after recent prescribed management burning. Moreover, drying experiments to learn how quickly Calluna plants dry up at 20°C and 50% relative humidity from rain-wet conditions showed that old Calluna stands represents a severe fire risk within two days. Young and more vigorous plants in the building phase (6–15 years old), as well as freeze drought damaged (typically some dead small branches), old but still live plants, showed different drying characteristics and dried more slowly. LandPress interlaces five work packages, exploring the impact of land-use change in combination with extreme climatic events in terms of vegetation change, ecosystem resilience, ecosystem services provisioning, sustainability, and evidence-based management and fire risk prevention.


We have mapped the quality of pasture resources for sheep grazing outdoor all year on ten localities along the west coast of Norway, using a classification scheme developed for this purpose. The classes reflect fodder value throughout the year. We performed an accuracy assessment, and identified possible sources of error. The accuracy is relatively low, and like others, we found that separating heath classes is a challenge. However, most errors can be explained by special mislocation and temporal change. Our further work with exploring grazing habits and landscape use of Old Norse sheep will include a GPS study of sheep movements overlaid with our pasture maps. We will update the map on that locality through field visits to enhance its accuracy.