baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

©2017copyright christoph hase

Rothwald Primeval Forest, Austria

 

Rothwald is the largest remnant of primeval forest in the Alps1. Although there were large fellings in the region from the mid-1700s, Rothwald was saved thanks to its remoteness, topography and location between two Austrian states2. In 1875 it passed into the ownership of the Rothschild family, which did not allow any wood removal in Rothwald but preserved it for use as a hunting and recreation area2. In 1943 the primeval forest was officially protected2 and is today a part of Dürrenstein Wilderness Area. Pollen analyses have also confirmed that this is a true virgin forest1. Rothwald is nowadays divided in two separate parts: “big primeval forest” (2.4 km2) and “small primeval forest” (0.5 km2). Originally, the primeval forest was contiguous and its area larger; unfortunately wood removal along the Moderbach (creek) between today’s two parts after storm damage in 1966 resulted in the separation of the primeval forest into two parts2.

 

Rothwald grows on limestone from 940 m elevation up to the forest limit at 1500 m 3 and comprises both steep slopes and almost level ground. The main tree species are Opens internal link in current windowFagus sylvatica (European beech), Opens internal link in current windowAbies alba (European silver fir) and Opens internal link in current windowPicea abies (Norway spruce). There are over 500-year-old A. alba and P. abies, and 450-year-old F. sylvatica specimens2. The other, much less common, trees are Opens internal link in current windowAcer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple), Opens internal link in current windowAcer platanoides (Norway maple), Opens internal link in current windowUlmus glabra (wych elm), Opens internal link in current windowSalix caprea (goat willow), Aria edulis (syn. Sorbus aria, whitebeam) 2, Opens internal link in current windowHedlundia austriaca (syn. Sorbus austriaca), Opens internal link in current windowSorbus aucuparia (European rowan) and Opens internal link in current windowTaxus baccata (European yew) 1. These are easy to distinguish from each other. “Small primeval forest” has some heavily wooded sites, even 1577 m3/ha has been measured in a small area3. However, most of the forest has much lower wood volume. On the other hand, dead wood volumes are high throughout the forest.

 

Although there has been no wood use, the forest is not in its natural state: The density of the large herbivores was natural until about 1870 but has increased since due to the extirpation of predators and winter feeding1. Consequently, the most herbivore sensitive tree species A. alba has not been able to regenerate since the late 1800s 1 and will disappear if the extant herbivore density continues3. The new growth of other tree species, even P. abies, is also damaged.

 

Average annual temperature is 3.7°C and annual precipitation approx. 2300 mm; average monthly precipitation year-round is over 100 mm 2. The forest can be classified as temperate rainforest4.

 

References:

 

1       Mayer, H., Neumann, M. & Schrempf, W. (1979): Der Urwald Rothwald in  den Niederösterreichischen Kalkalpen. In Mayer, H. (ed.): Urwaldreste, Naturwaldreservate und Schützenswerte Naturwälder in Österreich. Institut für Waldbau, Universität für Bodenkultur, Wien.

2       Gratzer, G. & Splechtna, B. (2014): Wissenschaftlicher Rundgang Rothwald.

3       Schrempf, W. (1986): Waldbauliche Untersuchungen im Fichten-Tannen-Buchen-Urwald Rothwald und in Urwald-Folgebeständen. In Mayer, H. (ed.): Urwaldreste, Naturwaldreservate und Schützenswerte Naturwälder in Österreich. Institut für Waldbau, Universität für Bodenkultur, Wien.

4       DellaSala, D. A. (ed.). 2011: Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World. Island Press.

 

Official site:

 

http://www.wildnisgebiet.at/en/


Rothausbach (creek) in the “big primeval forest”. Fagus sylvatica (European beech) and Picea abies (Norway spruce).
Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech). “Big primeval forest”.
Abies alba (European silver fir) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech). “Big primeval forest”.
Abies alba (European silver fir, background and the grey trunk on the left) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech). “Small primeval forest”.
Foreground: two Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech) saplings. Background: F. sylvatica, Abies alba (European silver fir) and Picea abies (Norway spruce). “Small primeval forest”.
Slope forest in “big primeval forest”. Abies alba (European silver fir), Fagus sylvatica (European beech) and Picea abies (Norway spruce, background centre with reddish trunk).
Avalanche cleared gap in the “big primeval forest”. Abies alba (European silver fir), Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
Dead Picea abies (Norway spruce), girth 452 cm. Also young Fagus sylvatica (European beech). “Big primeval forest”.
Dead Abies alba (European silver fir), girth 385 cm, with adjacent live young A. alba. Small Fagus sylvatica (European beech) in the background. “Big primeval forest”.
52-metre Picea abies (Norway spruce) in the “small primeval forest”. Also Abies alba (European silver fir) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
49-metre Abies alba (European silver fir) in the “small primeval forest”. Other trees: A. alba and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
The top of 49-metre Abies alba (European silver fir, centre) in the “small primeval forest”. Other trees: A. alba and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
Seedlings of the four most important tree species: Picea abies (Norway spruce, top left and right), Abies alba (European silver fir, bottom centre and right), Fagus sylvatica (European beech, bottom left) and Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple, centre).