Land-use and climate change effects in forest compositional trajectories in a dry Central-Alpine valley


  • • Increased mortality of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and spreading of deciduous trees are observed in the Swiss Rhone valley. Previous research identified climate change effects as main drivers of this trend. On the local scale, we hypothesize that legacies from past anthropogenic disturbances are superimposed on climate effects.

  • • We reconstructed land-use history and quantified changes in tree species composition from 1930 to 1994 on 9468 ha of forested land. The aim was to analyze the contribution of anthropogenic disturbances to the observed changes and to disentangle human impact from climate change effects.

  • • At altitudes below 1 200 m a.s.l. we found a shift from pine (−11.4%) to deciduous trees (+11%) with significantly lower increase of deciduous trees in stands formerly used for grazing and/or litter collecting. Conversely, pine decrease was not correlated with former anthropogenic disturbances. We interpret pine mortality as an effect of increased drought stress due to climate change while spread of deciduous trees is driven by land-use change. Grazing and litter collecting hindered deciduous tree regeneration and it was not until their abandonment a few decades ago that forest composition started to change. At higher elevations the shift from Norway spruce (Picea abies; −8.5%) to European larch (Larix decidua; +8.2%) corresponds to silvicultural management schemes, aimed at promoting larch recruitment.

  • • Our study illustrates the importance of disentangling climate from land-use change effects for understanding shifts in forest composition. The findings are relevant for other regions in the European Alps where forests undergo comparable environmental changes.

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Correspondence to Urs Gimmi.

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Gimmi, U., Wohlgemuth, T., Rigling, A. et al. Land-use and climate change effects in forest compositional trajectories in a dry Central-Alpine valley. Ann. For. Sci. 67, 701 (2010).

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  • historical ecology
  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • land-use history
  • woodland pasture
  • forest litter collecting