Structure and long-term development of subalpine Pinus montana Miller and Pinus cembra L. forests in the Central European Alps

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Since traditional agriculture and forestry are no longer economically viable in many regions of the European Alps, subalpine forests will become less managed or completely abandoned in the near future. Therefore, the interest in understanding how forest stands will develop after abandonment has increased considerably over the past two decades. While much is known about stand structure and stand development of Norway spruce (Picea abies L.) forests; almost no knowledge is available about the same processes in forest communities of the Central Alps. In the Swiss National Park (SNP), the forested area is comprised of mountain pine (Pinus montana Miller), Swiss stone pine/larch, (Pinus cembra L./Larix decidua L.). and mixed stands. When the Park was founded in 1914 all management activities were stopped. Therefore, this area offers the opportunity to study stand development and changes in stand structure after abandonment. We compared historic (1957) and present data (2001/02) from 19 stands that were grouped into characteristic stand types: "mountain pine", "mixed", and "stone pine". We detected significant decreases in total tree density (stem/ha) and sapling density (saplings/ha) of 45 to 57%, and 64 to 76%, respectively, over the 45 years of observation for all stand types, These changes were strongly related to decreases in the number of shade intolerant mountain pine trees. Simultaneously, the amount of non-standing woody residue increased from less than 4 t/ha to 36 to 67.7 t/ha, and the density of standing dead wood (stems/ha) decreased significantly between 72 and 94%. The biomass of standing dead wood (t/ha), however, changed only slightly between 1957 and 01/02. Our results describe the successional development of continental subalpine forests after abandonment and outlines changes that might take place in similar areas in the near future.

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Forstwissenschaftliches Centralblatt