The mid-Holocene extinction of silver fir (Abies alba) in the Southern Alps: a consequence of forest fires? Palaeobotanical records and forest simulations

  • Lucia WickEmail author
  • Adrian Möhl
Original Article


Pollen records suggest that Abies alba played a dominating role in both the montane and lowland forests at the border of the Southern Alps between ca. 8500 and 5700 years ago. Two major declines in fir, at about 7300–7000 cal b.p. and at ca. 6000 cal b.p., followed by the local extinction of the species are characteristic of the area below ca. 1000 m a.s.l. In order to test the impact of fire on the population dynamics of silver fir, a dynamic model (DisCForm) with a fire module was applied to simulate the early- and mid-Holocene forest development. Simulation outputs based on different fire scenarios were compared with the pollen record from Lago di Annone (226 m a.s.l.). The marked Abies decreases shown in the pollen record can be simulated with very intensive fire scenarios, but they do not result in an extinction of silver fir in the model. Low charcoal influx values related to the Abies declines in the palaeobotanical record suggest that fire was not the only reason for the extinction of silver fir. Human impact, as well as Holocene climatic changes leading to temporary moisture deficits and reduced adaptability due to low genetic variation may have had a significant impact on the Abies forests.


Northern Italy Abies alba Pollen analysis Charcoal Fire history Dynamic forest model 



We would like to dedicate this paper to Brigitta Ammann, with many thanks for her continuous support and her commitment to palaeoecological research in the Southern Alps.

This study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, grant no. 3100-047047. We are particularly grateful to B. Ammann, F. Keller, F. Kienast, H. Lischke, T. Mathis, W. Tinner, and the reviewers H. Bugmann and M. Conedera for their valuable inputs and comments, and to H.E. Wright for the revision of the English manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Plant SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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