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Assessing the Sensitivity of Mountain Forests to Site Degradation in the Northern Limestone Alps, Europe

Reger, Birgit, Göttlein, Axel, Katzensteiner, Klaus, Ewald, Jörg
Mountain research and development 2015 v.35 no.2 pp. 139-151
algorithms, bedrock, beetle infestations, climate, dolomite, forest stands, land use, limestone, marl, mining, models, montane forests, pastures, planning, soil, spatial data, stand structure, surveys, ungulates, windthrow, Alps region, Austria, Germany
Because of some land-use practices (such as overstocking with wild ungulates, historical clear-cuts for mining, and locally persisting forest pasture), protective forests in the montane vegetation belt of the Northern Limestone Alps are now frequently overaged and poorly structured over large areas. Windthrow and bark beetle infestations have generated disturbance areas in which forests have lost their protective functions. Where unfavorable site conditions hamper regeneration for decades, severe soil loss may ensue. To help prioritize management interventions, we developed a geographic information system-based model for assessing sensitivity to site degradation and applied it to 4 test areas in the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria and Bavaria. The model consists of (1) analysis of site conditions and forest stand structures that could increase sensitivity to degradation, (2) evaluation of the sensitivity of sites and stands, and (3) evaluation and mapping of mountain forests' sensitivity to degradation. Site conditions were modeled using regression algorithms with data on site parameters from pointwise soil and vegetation surveys as responses and areawide geodata on climate, relief, and substrate as predictors. The resulting predictor–response relationships were applied to test areas. Stand structure was detected from airborne laser scanning data. Site and stand parameters were evaluated according to their sensitivity to site degradation. Sensitivities of sites and stands were summarized in intermediate-scale sensitivity maps. High sensitivity was identified in 3 test areas with pure limestone and dolomite as the prevailing sensitivity level. Moderately sensitive forests dominate in the final test area, Grünstein, where the bedrock in some strata contains larger amounts of siliceous components (marl, mudstone, and moraines); degraded and slightly sensitive forests were rare or nonexistent in all 4 test areas. Providing a comprehensive overview of site and forest stand structure sensitivity to site degradation, our sensitivity maps can serve as a planning instrument for the management and protection of mountain forests.