HISTORICAL AND DENDROECOLOGICAL RECONSTRUCTION OF PAST DISTURBANCES AND DYNAMICS IN ANCIENT PROTECTIVE FORESTS: A CASE STUDY FROM SOUTHERN SWITZERLAND

Mark Bertogliati

Abstract


In the European Alps, ancient protective forests have represented important landscape and cultural features for centuries. At the present time they often host interesting
plant communities with varied structures and extreme age not far from those observed at the upper tree-line or in inaccessible sites. This is primarily a result of past management that
precariously balanced the forest’s strong protective properties and its resources. Therefore, ancient protective forests represent very interesting research topics, especially if they show unevenly-aged structures, century-old stand continuity and singular historic or naturalistic features. The present study aims to reconstruct past disturbances and the age structure of an ancient coniferous forest located on the southern slopes of the Swiss Alps (Canton Ticino, Switzerland), by means of historical and dendroecological data. Results show that during
the last three centuries of human activity (especially logging but also traditional non-timber forest use) has had a considerable impact on the study area. In contrast, exogenous
disturbances (natural events) are supposed to have influenced forest structure more on a local scale. Endogenous dynamics appear to be fairly significant, especially after a decrease
in human activity and the abandonment of traditional forest practices. The timing and intensity of disturbances coincide reasonably well with potential anthropogenic causal
factors. Knowledge of local forest dynamics and past disturbance regimes could help forest managers to better understand changes and, at the same time, help historians to analyse the impact of driving forces and single events on past landscapes.

Keywords


dendroecology; forest history; protective forest; forest dynamics; Swiss Alps

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