Original Paper

European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 132, Issue 1, pp 151-163

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Greater abundance of Fagus sylvatica in coniferous flood protection forests due to climate change: impact of modified root densities on infiltration

  • Benjamin LangeAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL Email author 
  • , Peter F. GermannAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Bern
  • , Peter LüscherAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL


Climate change is expected to modify the spatial distributions of zonal forest communities and thus, their species compositions. The aim of this paper was to study the impact of higher abundance of beech on water storage capacity in current coniferous flood protection forests due to varying root densities of the main tree species. Two forest communities in the northern pre-Alps in Switzerland with similar soil properties but varying in species composition were investigated (space-for-time substitution). It was assumed that the Vaccinio myrtillii-Abieti-Piceetum (site A) will be replaced by a Luzulo-Abieti-Fagetum (site B). We irrigated 16 hydromorphic soils (1 m2, 70 mm/h, three consecutive irrigations) at site A and 10 at site B and recorded water-content variations with time domain—and frequency domain reflectometry. Roots were extracted from soil cores taken from the positions where the water-content probes were inserted, and digitally measured. Infiltration capacity ω I was mainly limited to the upper soil at site A but was approximately constant down to 0.7 m depth at site B. Between 0.3 and 1.0 m soil depth, root densities at site B exceeded those at site A. Root density was the main predictor for ω I (R 2 = 0.57) at site A as shown by a multiple linear regression analysis. Assuming that the root density in the current coniferous forest (A) will increase to that of the beech stand (B) due to the greater abundance of beech, the water storage capacity will increase by 9.2 mm in consequence of the expected forest transformation.


Climate change Flood protection forests Water storage capacity Beech Spruce Forest transformation