European Journal of Forest Research

, Volume 137, Issue 3, pp 321–335 | Cite as

A novel empirical approach for determining the extension of forest development stages in temperate old-growth forests

  • Eike Feldmann
  • Jonas Glatthorn
  • Markus Hauck
  • Christoph Leuschner
Original Paper


In the analysis of old-growth forest dynamics, the continuous process of tree aging and forest structural change is split up into several distinct forest development stages. The criteria for distinguishing the stages vary among the different approaches. In most of them, vertical canopy heterogeneity is only coarsely addressed and horizontal forest structure is quantified at spatial scales far exceeding the size of conventional forest inventory plots. In order to describe and analyze the complex mosaic structure of temperate old-growth forests with objective and quantitative measures in the context of forest inventories, we propose the Development Stage Index I DS . It employs two easily measured stand structural parameters (stem density and basal area) for quantifying the abundance of trees in three conventionally recognized tree diameter classes (premature  < 40 cm; mature 40–70 cm; and over-mature ≥ 70 cm) in plots of 500 m2 size, systematically distributed in the forest. This allows quantifying the spatial extension of the Initial, Optimum and Terminal stages of forest development at plot, stand and landscape levels. Based on thorough stand structural analyses in three virgin beech (Fagus sylvatica) forests in Slovakia, we demonstrate that I DS is a promising tool for (1) quantifying the proportion of the three stages on different scales, (2) visualizing the complex mixing of stages, and (3) analyzing dynamic changes in old-growth forest structure. We conclude that the Development Stage Index has the potential to improve the empirical foundation of forest dynamics research and to allow this discipline to proceed to more rigorous hypothesis testing.


Development Stage Index Forest dynamics Fagus sylvatica Forest structure Old-growth forest Deadwood 



The support by the Stemmler Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. We are also grateful to the Poloniny National Park authority, the local forest administrations and the Ministry of Defence of the Slovak Republic for the permits to conduct the study and for technical support during the fieldwork. For organizational and technical support we also like to thank Viliam Pichler and his working group at the Technical University of Zvolen. Many thanks for assistance in the field to Matthias Steckel. We thank two anonymous reviewers for highly useful comments and suggestions on the manuscript.


This study was supported by the Stemmler Foundation, a member of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, Essen, Germany (Grant Number T206/23493/2012).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10342_2018_1105_MOESM1_ESM.docx (65 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 64 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Ecology and Ecosystems Research, Albrecht-von-Haller Institute for Plant SciencesUniversity of GoettingenGöttingenGermany

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