A new method for the identification of old-growth trees in National Forest Inventories: application to Pinus halepensis Mill. stands in Spain



Old-growth trees play a very important role in the maintenance of biodiversity in forests. However, no clear definition is yet available to help identify them since tree age is usually not recorded in National Forest Inventories.


To develop and test a new method to identify old-growth trees using a species-specific threshold for tree diameter in National Forest Inventories.


Different nonlinear mixed models for diameter–age were generated using data from the Spanish Forest Inventory in order to identify the most appropriate one for Aleppo pine in its South-western distribution area. The asymptote of the optimal model indicates the threshold diameter for defining an old-growth tree. Additionally, five site index curves were examined to analyze the influence of site quality on these models.


The Hossfled III mixed model was found to be the most appropriate to fit diameter–age curves for Aleppo pine trees. The overall diameter at breast height threshold for old-growth trees was 40.6 cm, although over a range of sites with increasing site quality, the threshold figure was 36.0, 38.0, 40.4, 43.1, and 46.3 cm, respectively.


This method allows the identification of old-growth trees and therefore of biodiversity hotspots, thus providing decision makers with a useful tool for management purposes.

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The authors wish to thank Roberto Vallejo and Vicente Sandoval of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment for kindly providing access to the full Spanish NFI data sets. We are particularly grateful to Guillermo Gea-Izquierdo, for his help and comments. We also want to express our thanks to the TRAGSA field teams of the National Forest Inventory and to the CIFOR-INIA technicians involved in the tree ring analysis for all their effort. We also thank Adam Collins for his help in editing this paper.


This research was supported by the AEG-09-007 agreement of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAGRAMA) and the AGL2010-21153.00.01 project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN).

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Correspondence to Iciar Alberdi.

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Contribution of the co-authors

Iciar ALBERDI: Experimental design, data analysis and elaboration of the paper

Isabel CAÑELLAS: Research project coordination, experimental design and work supervision

Laura HERNÁNDEZ: Figures/biodiversity and species ecology related aspects of the project supervision

Sonia CONDÉS: Experimental design, data analysis, work supervision

Handling Editor: Gilbert Aussenac

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Alberdi, I., Cañellas, I., Hernández, L. et al. A new method for the identification of old-growth trees in National Forest Inventories: application to Pinus halepensis Mill. stands in Spain. Annals of Forest Science 70, 277–285 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13595-012-0261-9

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  • Tree age
  • Forest biodiversity
  • Diameter–age relationship
  • NFI