Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 1807–1818 | Cite as

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

  • Christin LoranEmail author
  • Christian Ginzler
  • Matthias Bürgi
Original Article


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.


Forest transition theory Multi-scale approach Historical maps Forest area change Switzerland 



The research leading to these results received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) in the project Forest dynamics in Switzerland (FORDYNCH)—pattern, driving forces and ecological implications (Grant No. 200021-143242). We would like to thank F. Kienast and U. Gimmi for fruitful discussions and for helpful comments on the manuscript. The constructive comments of the reviewers allowed us to improve the manuscript. Curtis Gautschi kindly improved the English.

Supplementary material

10113_2015_911_MOESM1_ESM.docx (6.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 6767 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christin Loran
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christian Ginzler
    • 1
  • Matthias Bürgi
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Unit Landscape DynamicsWSL Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape ResearchBirmensdorfSwitzerland

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