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Popular Science: Land cover changes in Central European Mountains: Case study of Šumava

Central European mountains are predominantly covered by forest. Norway spruce is the most prevalent species and the most affected one. Windstorms and subsequent insect outbreaks are two main disturbances that influence the structure, composition, species richness and land cover changes in general. Therefore, Tomáš Janík and Dušan Romportl from the Department of Physical Geography and Geocology investigated changes in the forest after the Kyrill windstorm in the Šumava National Park.

The Šumava National Park (NP) is the largest such park in Czechia. It is situated in the southwestern part of the country. The landscape of the central part of Šumava consists of a mosaic of flat forested ridges and a mountain plateau with peat bogs and meadows. Together with the Bavarian Forest NP in Germany, they form one of the largest protected forested areas in Central Europe. During the era of communism (1948 – 1989), the Czech part was protected by a military regime and the area was protected from human intervention. After the collapse of communism, the NP was founded in 1991 on 680 km2.

The Kyrill windstorm affected the area in January 2007. The event started dynamic land cover changes between the years 2006 and 2012. Scientists used detailed airborne data and analysed and quantified the land cover changes.

At the beginning, the Kyrill windstorm had a relatively small impact - windfalls increased by 4.73 km2 (0.69% of the Šumava NP) in 2007. But over the whole period the coniferous forest decreased its proportion from 56.55% to 48.27% (between 2006 and 2012). This is the dominant process throughout the period. What happened? A new dead-standing forest originated from 2008 in the neighbourhood of the windfalls from the Kyrill windstorm. Between the years 2008 and 2009, the coniferous forest lost 12.43 km2 and 10.03 km2 of new dead-standing forest was detected. This represents the vast majority of changes in the non-intervention areas of the NP, where the coniferous forest was changed to dead-standing forest. A bark beetle infestation caused new dead-standing forest and, especially during the infestation period (2008 – 2011), patches were spatially clustered. More than 80% of new stands were within a 100 m distance from dead-standing forest from previous years. However, in management intervention zones, new clear-cuts and clear-cuts with dead wood increased their proportion. Between the years 2011 and 2012 all processes slowed down and the regeneration of the forest started.

Distribution of changes: dead standing forest (red) in non-intervention zone, clear-cuts (blue) in intervention zone.

To sum up, 56.71 km2 of coniferous forest was changed. The Kyrill windstorm started the first changes and windfalls served as a source for the bark beetle infestation. The bark beetle outbreak started in 2008 and it created 34.23 km2 of new dead-standing forest. On the other hand, logging and creating of new clear-cuts (21.23 km2) and clear-cuts with dead wood (13.07 km2) reacted to that. Both human and natural disturbances affected almost the same proportion of area, but there is a big difference between changes in the intervention zone (new clear-cuts) and non-intervention zone (new dead-standing forest).

Moreover, the results of other studies suggest that regeneration is more successful in dead-standing forests and the non-intervention zone. Despite this, since the establishment of the NP, bark beetle infestations have been managed by human intervention, which is still legal in the NP. Furthermore, fragmentation and the different management of the intervention and non-intervention zones do not allow natural processes on a bigger scale.

Janík, T., & Romportl, D. (2018). Recent land cover change after the Kyrill windstorm in the Šumava NP. Applied Geography, 97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2018.06.006

Tomáš Janík

Published: Jan 28, 2019 07:40 PM

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