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Using historical ecology to reassess the conservation status of coniferous forests in Central Europe.

ABSTRACT: Forests cover approximately one-third of Central Europe. Oak (Quercus) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica) are considered the natural dominants at low and middle elevations, respectively. Many coniferous forests (especially of Picea abies) occur primarily at midelevations, but these are thought to have resulted from forestry plantations planted over the past 200 years. Nature conservation and forestry policy seek to promote broadleaved trees over conifers. However, there are discrepancies between conservation guidelines (included in Natura 2000) and historical and palaeoecological data with regard to the distribution of conifers. Our aim was to bring new evidence to the debate on the conservation of conifers versus broadleaved trees at midelevations in Central Europe. We created a vegetation and land-cover model based on pollen data for a highland area of 11,300 km2 in the Czech Republic and assessed tree species composition in the forests before the onset of modern forestry based on 18th-century archival sources. Conifers dominated the study region throughout the entire Holocene (approximately 40-60% of the area). Broadleaved trees were present in a much smaller area than envisaged by current ideas of natural vegetation. Rather than casting doubt on the principles of Central European nature conservation in general, our results highlight the necessity of detailed regional investigations and the importance of historical data in challenging established notions on the natural distribution of tree species.


PROVIDER: S-EPMC5424083 | BioStudies | 2017-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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