Questions:How have the historical frequency and severity of natural disturbances in primary Picea abies forests varied at the forest stand and landscape level during recent centuries? Is there a relationship between physiographic attributes and historical patterns of disturbance severity in this system? Location: Primary P. abies forests of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, Romania; a region thought to hold the largest concentration of primary P. abies forests in Europe’s temperate zone. Methods: We used dendrochronological methods applied to many plots over a large area (132 plots representing six stands in two landscapes), thereby providing information at both stand and landscape levels. Evidence of past canopy disturbance was derived from two patterns of radial growth: (1) abrupt, sustained increases in growth (releases) and (2) rapid early growth rates (gap recruitment). These methods were augmented with non-metric multidimensional scaling to facilitate the interpretation of factors influencing past disturbance. Results: Of the two growth pattern criteria used to assess past disturbance, gap recruitment was the most common, representing 80% of disturbance evidence overall. Disturbance severities varied over the landscape, including stand replacing events, as well as low- and intermediate-severity disturbances. More than half of the study plots experienced extreme-severity disturbances at the plot level, although they were not always synchronized across stands and landscapes. Plots indicating high-severity disturbances were often spatially clustered (indicating disturbances up to 20 ha), while this tendency was less clear for low- and moderate-severity disturbances. Physiographic attributes such as altitude and land form were only weakly correlated with disturbance severity. Historical documents suggest windstorms as the primary disturbance agent, while the role of bark beetles (Ips typographus) remains unclear. Conclusions: The historical disturbance regime revealed in this multi-scale study is characterized by considerable spatial and temporal heterogeneity, which could be seen among plots within stands, among stands within landscapes and between the two landscapes. When the disturbance regime was evaluated at these larger scales, the entire range of disturbance severity was revealed within this landscape.
Management of Norway spruce monocultures in Europe is becoming increasingly difficult due to frequent natural disturbances. Their transformation could be especially challenging if several disturbances interact. In 2003 a spruce bark beetle outbreak damaged large tracts of spruce bottomland successional forest in southeast Slovenia where overabundant ungulate populations are present. In openings (5.4-7.5 ha in size) of four salvaged forest compartments, we studied the effects of meso-relief, forest edge, seed trees and fencing on vegetation succession and tree regeneration. In 2005 and 2013 we sampled seedling density on 240 plots according to height class and species. In the second inventory we also assessed distance to seed trees and on a subsample of the plots the coverage of vascular plants. The results indicated sufficient natural regeneration and niche partitioning among species groups, with spruce seedlings being more successful at stand edges, pioneers and anemochorous broadleaves in gap centres, and zoochorous broadleaves on plateaus as opposed to sinkholes. Seedling density of all anemochorous broadleaves was higher closer to seed trees. Spruce seedling abundance was negatively associated with the cover of herbaceous vegetation and that of pioneer trees with shrubs. Fencing resulted in significantly greater density, height and coverage of seedlings as well as a higher share of broadleaves. While bark beetle outbreak triggered regeneration of broadleaves, overbrowsing acted in the opposite direction by facilitating Norway spruce. Thus, to accelerate successional development and to prevent a Norway spruce dominated alternative ecosystem state, a significant reduction in deer abundance is needed. To safeguard seed sources, promote seed dispersal by encouraging perches and shelters, and preserve potential habitats, some damaged trees should be retained during salvaging operations.
Due to a long history of intensive forest exploitation, few European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) old-growth forests have been preserved in Europe. We studied two beech forest reserves in southern Slovenia. We examined the structural characteristics of the two forest reserves based on data from sample plots and complete inventory obtained from four previous forest management plans. To gain a better understanding of disturbance dynamics, we used aerial imagery to study the characteristics of canopy gaps over an 11-year period in the Kopa forest reserve and a 20-year period in the Gorjanci forest reserve. The results suggest that these forests are structurally heterogeneous over small spatial scales. Gap size analysis showed that gaps smaller than 500 m2 are the dominant driving force of stand development. The percentage of forest area in canopy gaps ranged from 3.2 to 4.5% in the Kopa forest reserve and from 9.1 to 10.6% in the Gorjanci forest reserve. These forests exhibit relatively high annual rates of coverage by newly established (0.15 and 0.25%) and closed (0.08 and 0.16%) canopy gaps. New gap formation is dependant on senescent trees located throughout the reserve. We conclude that these stands are not even-sized, but rather unevenly structured. This is due to the fact that the disturbance regime is characterized by low intensity, small-scale disturbances.
We investigated forest canopy gaps in the mixed beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), silver fir (Abies alba Miller), and Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) old-growth forest of Lom in the Dinaric Mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Gap size, age, gap fraction, gapmaker characteristics and the structure and composition of gapfillers were documented to investigate gap dynamics. The percentages of forest area in canopy and expanded gaps were 19% and 41%, respectively. The median canopy gap size was 77 m2, and ranged from 11 to 708 m2. Although there were many single tree-fall gaps, the majority had multiple gapmakers that were often in different stages of decay, suggesting gap expansion is important at the study site. Of the gapmakers recorded, 14% were uprooted stems, 60% snapped stems, and 26% were standing dead trees. Dendroecological analysis suggests that gap formation varied in time. The density of gapfillers was not correlated to gap size, and the species composition of gapfillers varied between seedling, sapling, and tree life stages. The results suggest that gaps are mainly formed by endogenous senescence of single canopy trees. Exogenous disturbance agents, most likely related to wind and snow, act mainly as secondary agents in breaking weakened trees and in expanding previously established gaps. Although the findings are partially consistent with other studies of gap disturbance processes in similar old-growth forests in central Europe, the observed gap dynamic places the Lom core area at the end of a gradient that ranges from forests controlled by very small-scale processes to those where large, stand replacing disturbances predominate.
The practice of salvage logging dead and damaged timber following large high severity disturbances has raised much controversy, largely because of the negative ecological effects that such practices have on forest ecosystems. Many of the studies on salvage logging effects, however, have been done on sites damaged by large, severe disturbances. Less is known about the ecological consequences of salvage logging following moderate severity disturbances that cause partial canopy damage at smaller scales. We examined the response of the herbaceous layer and tree regeneration to salvaged and non-salvaged treatments following small-scale moderate severity disturbances in eight mixed beech (Fagus sylvatica) dominated forest stands in Slovenia. The cover and diversity of herbaceous vegetation and the density and diversity of tree regeneration were similar between treatments across the study sites. The only notable differences between the treatments were that salvaged sites had a larger proportion of shade intolerant tree species in the regeneration layer, while non-salvaged sites tended to have a more well-developed regeneration layer in taller height classes. This study suggests that forest recovery following small-scale moderate severity disturbance and salvage logging in mixed beech dominated stands, particularly in areas where forests roads and skidding trails are already present, may be indistinguishable from recovery after planned harvesting activities within managed forests.