Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Reconstructing Anthropogenic Disturbance Regimes in Forest Ecosystems: A Case Study from the Swiss Rhone Valley

  • Published:
Ecosystems Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Anthropogenic disturbances of forest ecosystems are increasingly recognized as fundamental ecological processes with important long-term implications for biogeochemical cycles and vegetation patterns. This article aims at reconstructing the extent and intensity of the two most common types of traditional forest uses—forest litter collecting and wood pasture—in the Swiss Rhone valley (Valais) by (i) identifying the spatiotemporal patterns, and (ii) modeling the biomass removal through these practices. Detailed information on agricultural practices and socio-economic context were essential to develop reliable estimates of anthropogenic disturbance regimes. In the Valais, predominately goats and sheep grazed in the forests. The intensity of grazing was a function of the number of grazing animals and the available grazing area. Forest litter was used as bedding for farm animals during the winter. Key factors determining the intensity of litter collecting were the number of animal units, the amount of available substitute products (straw), and the area where litter raking could be practiced. The results show that wood pasture and forest litter collecting were practiced on a significant proportion of the forested landscape in the Valais up to the second half of the 20th century. Until the implementation of forest management plans in the 1930s, almost half of the forests in the study area were affected by wood pasture and/or forest litter collecting. The regulations in the management plans led to an essential reduction of the area available for these traditional practices but likewise to an increased pressure on the remaining areas. The results suggest that the notion of a slow but steady disappearance of traditional non-timber forest uses and the associated effects on forest ecosystems is oversimplified. Quantitative reconstructions of biomass output resulting from these practices confirm the importance of traditional non-timber forest uses for ecosystem development in this region. Furthermore, it is very likely that similar effects have been widespread throughout regions with similar natural and socio-economic context, for example, throughout a significant proportion of the European Alps. This study underlines the importance of environmental history for ecological sciences as well as for forest management and conservation planning.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Figure 1.
Figure 2.
Figure 3.
Figure 4.
Figure 5.
Figure 6.
Figure 7.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Bigler C, Bräker OU, Bugmann H, Dobbertin M, Rigling A (2006) Drought as an inciting mortality factor in Scot pine stands of the Valais, Switzerland. Ecosystems 9:330–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Becker-Dillingen J (1927) Handbuch des Getreidebaues. Berlin: Parey. p 627

    Google Scholar 

  • Benkobi L, Trlica MJ, Smith JL (1993) Soil loss as affected by different combinations of surface litter and rock. J Environ Qual 22:657–61

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bürgi M, (1999) A case study of forest change in the Swiss lowlands. Landsc Ecol 14:567–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bürgi M, Russell EWB, Motzkin G (2000) Effects of postsettlement human activities on forest composition in the north-eastern United States: a comparative approach. J Biogeogr 27:1123–38

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bürgi M, Stuber M (2003) Agrarische Waldnutzungen in der Schweiz 1800–1950. Waldfeldbau, Waldfrüchte und Harz. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 154:360–75

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bürgi M, Gimmi U. 2007. Three objectives of historical ecology: the case of litter collecting in Central European forests. Landsc Ecol: 22:77–87

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chauchard S, Carcaillet C, Guibal F. 2007. Patterns of land-use abandonment control tree-recruitment and forest dynamics in Mediterranean mountains. Ecosystems: (in press)

  • Compton JE, Boone RD, Motzkin G, Foster DR (1998) Soil carbon and nitrogen in a pine-oak sand plain in central Massachusetts: Role of vegetation and land-use history. Oecologia 116:536–42

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Compton JE, Boone RD (2000) Long-term impacts of agriculture on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics in New England forests. Ecology 81:2314–30

    Google Scholar 

  • Côté SD, Rooney TP, Trembley J-P, Dussault C, Waller DM (2004) Ecological impacts of deer overabundance. Ann Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:113–47

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cronon W (2000) Resisting monoliths and tabulae rasae. Ecol Appl 10:673–5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dale VH, Brown S, Heauber RA, Hobbs NT, Huntly N, Naiman RJ, Riebsame WE, Turner MG, Valone TJ (2000) Ecological principles and guidelines for managing the use of land. Ecol Appl 10:639–70

    Google Scholar 

  • Dobbertin M, Mayer P, Wohlgemuth T, Feldmeyer-Christe E, Graf U, Zimmermann N, Rigling A (2005) The decline of Pinus sylvestris L. forests in the Swiss Rhone valley—a result of drought stress? Phyton 44:153–6

    Google Scholar 

  • Dobbertin M, Wermelinger B, Bigler C, Bürgi M, Carron M, Forster B, Gimmi U, Rigling A (2007) Linking increasing drought stress to Scots Pine mortality and Bark Beetle infestations. Sci World J 7:231–9

    Google Scholar 

  • Dupouey JL, Dambrine E, Laffite JD, Moares C (2002) Irreversible impact of past land use on forest soils and biodiversity. Ecology 83:2978–84

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dzwonko Z, Gawronski S (2002) Effect of litter removal on species richness and acidification of a mixed oak-pine woodland. Biol Conserv 106:389–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eberhardt RW, Foster DR, Motzkin G, Hall B (2003) Conservation of changing landscapes: vegetation and land-use history of Cape Cod and National Seashore. Ecol Appl 13: 68–84

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ebermayer, E. 1876. Die gesammte Lehre der Waldstreu mit Rücksicht auf die chemische Statik des Waldbaues. J. Berlin: Springer

  • Fankhauser R, Enggist P (2004) Simulation of alpine chamois Rupicapra r. rupicapra habitat use. Ecol Model 175:291–302

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster DR (1992) Land-use history (1730–1990) and vegetation dynamics in central New England, USA. J Ecol 80:753–72

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster DR, Motzkin G, Slater B (1998) Land-use history as long-term broad-scale disturbance: regional forest dynamics in central New England. Ecosystems 1:96–119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foster DR, Swanson F, Aber J., Burke I., Browaw N., Tilman D., Knapp A (2003) The importance of land-use legacies to ecology and conservation. Bioscience 53:77–88

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fraterrigo JM, Turner MG, Pearson SM, Dixon P (2005) Effects of past land use on spatial heterogeneity of soil nutrients in Southern Appalachian forests. Ecol Monogr 75:215–30

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ganter K (1927) Streuversuchsflächen der badischen forstlichen Versuchsanstalt and der Universität Freiburg i.B. Allgemeine Forst und Jagdzeitung 103:353–8

    Google Scholar 

  • Geddes N, Dunkerley D (1999) The influence of organic litter on the erosive effects of raindrops and of gravity drops relesed from desert shrops. Catena 36:303–13

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gimmi U, Bürgi M, Wohlgemuth T (2004) Wie oft brannte der Walliser Wald im 20 Jahrhundert?. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 155:437–40

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gimmi U, Bürgi M (2007) Using oral history and forest management plans to reconstruct traditional non-timber forest uses in the Swiss Rhone valley (Valais) since the late nineteenth century. Environ History 13:211–46

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ginter DL, McLeod KW, Sherrod C (1979) Water stress in longleaf pine induced by litter removal. For Ecol Manage 2:13–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glatzel G (1990) The nitrogen status of Austrian forest ecosystems as influenced by atmospheric deposition, biomass harvesting and lateral organomass exchange. Plant Soil 128:67–74

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Glatzel G (1991) The impact of historic land use and modern forestry on nutrient relations of Central Europe forest ecosystems. Fert Res 27:1–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodale CL, Aber JD (2001) The long-term effects of land-use history on nitrogen cycling in northern hardwood forests. Ecol Appl 11:253–67

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Graae BJ, Sunde PB, Fritzbøger B (2003) Vegetation and soil differences in acient opposed to new forests. For Ecol Manag 177:179–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hüttl RF, Schaaf W (1995) Nutrient supply of forest soils in relation to management and site history. Plant Soil 168:31–41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Imboden A (1972) Die Land- und Alpwirtschaft im Oberwallis. Bern: Schweizerischer Alpkataster. p 259

    Google Scholar 

  • Johann, E. 2004. Wald und Mensch. Die Nationalparkregion Hohe Tauern (Kärnten). Klagenfurt: Das Kärntner Landesarchiv 30. p 812

  • Jussy JH, Koerner W, Dambrine E, Dupouey JL, Benoit M (2002) Influence of former agricultural land use on net nitrate production in forest soils. Eur J Soil Sci 53:367–74

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Koerner W, Dupouey JL, Dambrine E, Benoit M (1997) Influence of past land use on the vegetation and soils of present day forest in the Vosges mountains, France. J Ecol 85:351–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koerner W, Dambrine E, Dupouey JL, Benoit M (1999) δ15N of forest soil and understorey vegetation reflect the former agricultural land use. Oecologia 121:421–5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kreutzer K (1972) Über den Einfluss der Streunutzung auf den Stickstoffhaushalt von Kiefernbeständen (Pinus sylvestris L.). Forstwissenschaftliches Centralblatt 91:263–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Landwirtschaftliche Beratungsstelle Lindau, ed 2002. Wirz Handbuch: Pflanzen und Tiere. Basel: Verlag Wirz, p 766

  • Latty EF, Canham CD, Marks PL (2004) The effects of land-use history on soil properties and nutrient dynamics in northern hardwood forests of the Adirondack mountains. Ecosystems 7:193–207

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • MacCay DH (2000) Effect of chronic human activities on invasion of langleaf pine forests by sand pine. Ecosystems 3:283–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Perruchod D, Kienast F, Kaufmann E, Bräker OU (1999) 20th century carbon budget of forest soils in the Alps. Ecosystems 2:320–37

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prévosto B, Dambirne E, Moares C, Curt T (2004) Effects of volcanic ash chemistry and former agricultural use on the soils and vegetation of naturally regenerated woodlands in the Massif Central, France. Catena 56:239–61

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ramann G (1883) Die Einwirkung der Streuentnahme auf Sandboden. Zeitschrift für Forst- und Jagdwesen 12:577–663

    Google Scholar 

  • Rebel K. 1920. Streunutzung, insbesondere im bayerischen Staatswald. Diessen vor München. p 172

  • Rebetez M, Dobbertin M (2004) Climate change may already threaten Scots pine stands in the Swiss Alps. Theor Appl Climatol 79:1–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reimoser F, Gossow H (1996) Impact of ungulates on forest vegetation and its dependence on the silvicultural system. For Ecol Manage 88:107–19

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rigling A, Cherubini P (1999) Wieso sterben die Waldföhren im „Telwald“ bei Visp? Eine Zusammenfassung bisheriger Studien und eine dendroökologische Untersuchung. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 150:113–31

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rigling A, Forster B, Wermelinger B, Cherubini P. 1999. Grossflächige Veränderung des Landschaftsbildes im Kanton Wallis - Waldföhrenbestände im Umbruch. Wald und Holz:8–12

  • Rigling A, Dobbertin M, Wohlgemuth T (2004) Waldföhrenwälder der Alpen im Umbruch – eine Bioindikation für Global Change? Bauhinia 18:56–7

    Google Scholar 

  • Sayer EJ (2006) Using experimental manipulation to assess the roles of leaf litter in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Biol Rev 81:1–31

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schönfeld U, Rigling D, Polomski J (2004) Eine neue Gefahr für die Föhren der Schweiz? Der Kiefernholznematode. Wald und Holz 85:35–7

    Google Scholar 

  • Schütz M, Risch AC, Achermann G, Thiel-Egenter C, Page-Dumroese D, Jurgensen MF, Edwards PJ (2006) Phosphorus translocation by red deer on a subalpine grassland in the Central European Alps. Ecosystems 9:624–33

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Schwappach AF. 1887. Über den Einfluss des Streurechens auf den Holzbestand. Zeitschrift für Forst- und Jagdwesen 19:401–6 and 698–700

  • Stebler, F.G. 1921. Die Vispertaler Sonnenberge. Jahrbuch der Schweiz 56. Bern: Schweizer Alpenclub

  • Stuber M, Bürgi M (2001) Agrarische Waldnutzungen in der Schweiz 1800–1950. Waldweide, Waldheu, Nadel- und Laubfutter. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 152:490–508

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stuber M, Bürgi M. 2002. Agrarische Waldnutzungen in der Schweiz 1800–1950. Nadel- und Laubstreue. In: Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 153:397–410

  • Suter W, Suter U, Krüsi B, Schütz M (2004) Spatial variation of summer diet of red deer Cervus elaphus in the eastern Swiss Alps. Wildl Biol 10:43–50

    Google Scholar 

  • Weber P, Rigling A, Bugmann H. 2007. Sensitivity of stand dynamics to grazing in mixed Pinus sylvestris and Quercus pubescens forests: a modelling study. Ecol Model: (in press)

  • Wohlgemuth T, Bürgi M, Scheidegger C, Schütz M (2002) Dominance reduction of species through disturbance—a proposed management principle for central European forests. For Ecol Manage 166:1–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wulf M (2004) Plant species richness of afforestations with different former use and habitat continuity. For Ecol Manage 195:191–204

    Article  Google Scholar 

Statistical Sources Schweizerische Statistik:

  • Heft 31: Schweizerische Viehzählung 1876

  • Heft 116: Eidgenössische Viehzählung 1896

  • Heft 132: Allgemeine Schweizerische Viehzählung 1901

  • Heft 178: Allgemeine Schweizerische Viehzählung 1911

  • Heft 208: Schweizerische Anbaustatistik 1917

Schweizerische Statistische Mitteilungen:

  • II. Jahrgang, Heft 2: Anbaustatistik der Schweiz 1919

  • II. Jahrgang, Heft 3: Viehzählung der Schweiz 1919

  • II. Jahrgang, Heft 10: Viehzählung der Schweiz 1920

  • IV. Jahrgang, Heft 6: Viehzählung der Schweiz 1921

  • IX. Jahrgang, Heft 3: Anbaustatistik der Schweiz 1926

  • X. Jahrgang, Heft 2: Viehzählung der Schweiz 1926

Statistische Quellenwerke der Schweiz:

  • Heft 46: Eidgenössische Viehzählung 1931

  • Heft 72: Anbaustatistik der Schweiz 1934

  • Heft 85: Eidgenössische Viehzählung 1936

  • Heft 134: Utilisation du sol 1939 et cultures des champs 1940–1943

  • Heft 136: Nutztierbestände der Schweiz 1941–1943

  • Heft 218: Eidgenössische Viehzählungen 1944–1948

  • Heft 271: Nutztierbestand der Schweiz 1951–1954

  • Heft 312: Nutztierbestand der Schweiz 1956

  • Heft 392: Nutztierbestand der Schweiz 1961–1964

  • Heft 406: Eidgenössische Betriebszählung 1965, Band 1 Landwirtschaft

Download references

Acknowledgments

This study is part of the Scots Pine Project within the Research Program ‘Forest Dynamics’ of the WSL. We thank Shelley Schmidt for her language correction. The constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers helped much to improve the quality of this manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Urs Gimmi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gimmi, U., Bürgi, M. & Stuber, M. Reconstructing Anthropogenic Disturbance Regimes in Forest Ecosystems: A Case Study from the Swiss Rhone Valley. Ecosystems 11, 113–124 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-007-9111-2

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-007-9111-2

Keywords

Navigation