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Evaluating forest transition based on a multi-scale approach: forest area dynamics in Switzerland 1850–2000

Loran, Christin, Ginzler, Christian, Bürgi, Matthias
Regional environmental change 2016 v.16 no.6 pp. 1807-1818
biogeography, forest inventory, forests, plateaus, Alps region, Switzerland
A trend of forest area expansion after decades of decline is taking place in many countries around the globe. In Switzerland, forest cover has been expanding since at least the mid-nineteenth century. However, little is known about the patterns of forest area dynamics on a long-term, national scale, nor regarding the precise time of forest transition (FT). In the present study, we reconstruct the trajectories of forest cover over the past 150 years based on historical maps and contemporary national forest inventory data for the purpose of analyzing forest area dynamics at multi-spatial scales. At the national scale, total forest area increased continuously from around 20 % in 1850 to 30 % in 2000, while ancient forest area decreased from 20 % in 1850 down to 11 % in 2000. FT events occurred at the regional scale in the Eastern, Southern and Western Alps around 1880. Since then, forest area has almost doubled in the Southern Alps. In contrast, the Central Plateau is the biogeographical region with the most stable forest cover. The results from the analysis at the local scale confirm the high dynamics in forest cover throughout the study period, causing a steady decline in ancient forest area. These variations in forest cover dynamics confirm the crucial importance of the choice of spatial scale. Historical maps were essential for this long-term study.