European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 19–31 | Cite as

Development of old-growth characteristics in uneven-aged forests of the Italian Alps

  • Renzo MottaEmail author
  • Matteo Garbarino
  • Roberta Berretti
  • Fabio Meloni
  • Antonio Nosenzo
  • Giorgio Vacchiano
Original Paper


During the last millennia, all forests of the Italian Alps have been heavily affected by human land-use. Consequently, forest structures have been modified, and there are no old growth remains. In the last decades, however, many forests have been withdrawn from regular management, because wood production was unprofitable, and left to develop naturally. At the same time, in currently managed forests, silvicultural systems able to develop or maintain old-growth characteristics are being required. The aim of this paper was to assess the status and developmental dynamics of old-growth characteristics in mixed beech, silver fir, and Norway spruce montane forests of the eastern Italian Alps. We selected along a naturalness gradient (a) three old-growth forests in Bosnia and Montenegro (due to the lack of old-growth forests in the Italian Alps), (b) two forests withdrawn from regular management for at least 50 years, and (c) three currently managed forests. In each forest, we analysed 17 structural attributes, in order to assess their value as indicators of old-growth condition. Old-growth forests were characterized by significantly higher amounts of live and dead biomass, share of beech in the dominant and regeneration layers, and number of large trees. The diameter distribution was best described as a rotated sigmoid, differently from currently and formerly managed forest. We discuss the differences in old-growth characteristics across the management gradient and use our results to evaluate the effectiveness of retention prescriptions currently applied in the studied regions in maintaining or promoting old-growth structural attributes in managed forests.


Forest structure Coarse woody debris Selection system Rotated sigmoid PCA Retention forestry 



The authors wish to thank Alessandro Wolynski (Autonomous Province of Trento), Franca de Ferrari (Piemonte Region), Damiano Penco and Luca Iacopi (Liguria Region), Maurizio Dissegna, Giovanni Carraro and Ivan Davide Orlando (Veneto Region), Enrico Calvo (ERSAF, Lombardy Region) for useful information and comments regarding retention forestry, Giuseppe Menegus (Regione Veneto), Fabio Angeli, Paolo Zorer and Maurizio Mezzanotte (Autonomous Province of Trento) for useful information and for the field support in the three managed forests, Ivan Bjelanovic, Milic Čurović, Srdjan Keren, and Vojislav Dukić for the field support in the old-growth forests. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their careful reading of our manuscript and their many insightful comments and suggestions. This work was partially supported by the Autonomous Province of Trento and by the Friuli Venezia Giulia Autonomous Region (Research on forests withdrawn from regular managements). Spot Image Inc., through Planet Action Program domain Forest and deforestation, provided funding for the research in the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro old-growth forests by donating satellite imagery and image processing systems.

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Renzo Motta
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matteo Garbarino
    • 2
  • Roberta Berretti
    • 1
  • Fabio Meloni
    • 1
  • Antonio Nosenzo
    • 1
  • Giorgio Vacchiano
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie, forestali e alimentari (DISAFA)Università di TorinoGrugliascoItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento D3AUniversità Politecnica delle MarcheAnconaItaly

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