Title: Natural development and regeneration of a Central European montane spruce forest
Miroslav Svoboda, Shawn Fraver, Pavel Janda, Radek Bače, Jitka Zenáhlíková
Montane Norway spruce forests of Central Europe have a very long tradition of use for timber production;however, recently there has been increasing concern for their role in maintaining biological diversity.This concern, coupled with recent severe windstorms that led to wide-spread bark beetle outbreaks, has brought the management of montane spruce forests to the forefront of public policy discussions in Central Europe. In order to shed light on the natural development and current structure of mature montane spruce forests, we established four 0.25 ha research plots in a semi-natural montane spruce forest in the Šumava Mountains (The Bohemian Forest), Czech Republic. We mapped all trees, extracted increment
cores for age and growth-pattern analyses, and inventoried all current tree regeneration, including the substrates on which it was found. Stands were characterized by uni-modal tree diameter distributions and high basal areas (56.6m2 ha-1 on average), indicating a natural transition from the stem exclusion phase towards the understory reinitiation phase. The stands showed largely single-cohort recruitment age structures, however, with recruitment spanning seven decades. Our analyses suggest that this cohort existed as advance regeneration prior to major disturbances in the late 1800s, which included post-bark
beetle salvage logging. Spatial pattern analyses of living and dead stems combined, showed an increase in uniformity of living trees, pointing to the role of natural density-dependent mortality. However, past growth patterns and historical documentation suggest that low intensity canopy disturbances (wind and snow) also caused mortality and diversified canopy structure. Because the stands developed naturally over the past 120+ years and thus escaped thinning operations, high volumes of coarse woody debris (94m3 ha-1) and snag densities (546 stems ha-1) have accrued. Advance spruce regeneration was quite abundant and existed primarily on deadwood substrates, even though these occupied only a small percent of stand area. Because of salvage logging in the late 1880s, these stands do not qualify, according to the traditional paradigm, as natural spruce forests. As a result, they are recently subject to active management practices including salvage logging that remove dead and dying trees. Given the importance of deadwood for forest regeneration and recovery from disturbance, as demonstrated in this study, we argue that dead wood removal may limit future natural regeneration in these stands. Thus, the purported benefits of removing dead and dying trees from semi-natural forests must be carefully weighed against the potential detrimental impacts on natural spruce forest regeneration and biodiversity.