The historical disturbance regime of mountain Norway spruce forests in the Western Carpathians and its influence on current forest structure and composition

Pavel Janda, Volodymyr Trotsiuk, Martin Mikoláš, Radek Bače, Thomas A. Nagel, Rupert Seidl, Meelis Seedre, Robert C. Morrissey, Stanislav Kucbel, Peter Jaloviar, Marián Jasík, Juraj Vysoký, Pavel Šamonil, Vojtěch Čada, Hana Mrhalová, Jana Lábusová, Markéta H. Nováková, Miloš Rydval, Lenka Matějů, Miroslav Svoboda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


In order to gauge ongoing and future changes to disturbance regimes, it is necessary to establish a solid baseline of historic disturbance patterns against which to evaluate these changes. Further, understanding how forest structure and composition respond to variation in past disturbances may provide insight into future resilience to climate-driven alterations of disturbance regimes. We established 184 plots (mostly 1000 m2) in 14 primary mountain Norway spruce forests in the Western Carpathians. On each plot we surveyed live and dead trees and regeneration, and cored around 25 canopy trees. Disturbance history was reconstructed by examining individual tree growth trends. The study plots were further aggregated into five groups based on disturbance history (severity and timing) to evaluate and explain its influence on forest structure. These ecosystems are characterized by a mixed severity disturbance regime with high spatiotemporal variability in severity and frequency. However, periods of synchrony in disturbance activity were also found. Specifically, a peak of canopy disturbance was found for the mid-19th century across the region (about 60% of trees established), with the most important periods of disturbance in the 1820s and from the 1840s to the 1870s. Current stand size and age structure were strongly influenced by past disturbance activity. In contrast, past disturbances did not have a significant effect on current tree density, the amount of coarse woody debris, and regeneration. High mean densities of regeneration with height >50 cm (about 1400 individuals per ha) were observed. Extensive high severity disturbances have recently affected Central European forests, spurring a discussion about the causes and consequences. We found some evidence that forests in the Western Carpathians were predisposed to recent severe disturbance events as a result of synchronized past disturbance activity, which partly homogenized size and age structure and made recent stands more vulnerable to bark beetle outbreak. Our data suggest that these events are still part of the range of natural variability. The finding that regeneration density and volume of coarse woody debris were not influenced by past disturbance illustrates that vastly different past disturbance histories are not likely to change the future trajectories of these forests. These ecosystems currently have high ecological resilience to disturbance. In conclusion, we suggest that management should recognize disturbances as a natural part of ecosystem dynamics in the mountain forests of Central Europe, account for their stochastic occurrence in management planning, and mimic their patterns to foster biodiversity in forest landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-78
Number of pages12
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Dendroecology
  • Disturbance synchronization
  • Forest dynamics
  • Landscape ecology
  • Spatio-temporal pattern
  • Stand structure


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