Regional Information Center "CARPATHIANS"

Hamor F., Dovhanych Ya., Pokynchereda V., Sukharyuk D., Bundzyak Yo., Berkela Yu., Voloshchuk M., Hodovanets В., Kabal M.

A famous European ecologist Mario Broggi in his article “What do Transcarpathian virgin forests mean for us?” published on September 20, 1999 in a popular Swiss newspaper “Neue Zeurcher Zeitung” emphasized the following: „For the Swiss Federal Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape Investigations WSL the virgin forests and cultural landscapes of the biosphere reserve in Transcarpathia (Ukraine) make up a perfect site for comparison with the present Swiss practice of forest management as well as nature and landscape conservation”. But this is only one of the aspects that reflect the virgin forests’ value. From the scientific viewpoint they are of a crucial importance in determining the history of a vegetation cover development during the post-glacial period. Virgin forests research is a necessary precondition for the close-to-nature forest management as they serve as a model of biologically stable and highly-productive forest communities. The ecological processes that occur here may become a virtual model for the sustainable forest use.

But for that, the dynamic of aging and decay of a forest stand, natural catastrophes that occur here, a wide spectrum of structure and ecological conditions are extremely favorable for the biodiversity conservation. This is a real paradise for a number of animals and plants typical not only for these conditions, especially fungi, insects and birds.

The virgin forests embody freedom and the eternal beauty. So, from this point of view they should represent an exceptional ethic and aesthetic value. Thick grey candle-like trunks of beech trees make up a giant colonnade of a real Temple of Nature, which admires us with its power, magnificence and ancient origin. Wilderness and non-disturbance of virgin forests preconditioned by total absence of any signs of human activity, presence of a great number of huge standing and lying dead trees covered with carpets of moss and beards of lichens, give these sites a sense of an inimitable harmony of chaos and allow us seeing this beauty with the eyes of ancient philosophers.

Moreover, the virgin forests are of a great importance because they act as natural laboratories and play an important role for education, ecotourism etc.

A great scientific, nature conservation and practical value of virgin forests conditions the demand for a careful approach towards criteria of identification. Reference sources (Korpel, 1989; Stoiko, 1998; Chemyavskyi, 1997; Fanta, 2003 et a/.) provide different suggestions concerning this problem. But we emphasize herewith that according to WWF and IUCN only forests where no changes have occurred under the human impact can be referred to virgin or primeval ones. And according to the decision of the European Conference of Forestry Ministers MCFPE (1996) “a virgin forest is a forest massif which has never undergone a human impact and in its structure and dynamics demonstrates natural development” and at the same time “its soils, climate, flora, fauna and vita processes are neither damaged nor changed in the result of forest use, grazing or any other direct or indirect human impact”.

Though, giving a real estimation of the situation on the planet there’s practically no patch in the world which has not undergone either direct or indirect anthropic pressure. That is why according to the first part of this definition there practically no virgin forests in Europe. But it is known that forest ecosystems are able for self-restoration. Taking this fact into account some forests that have not undergone great anthropic pressure (e.g. when few trees have been cut within insignificant area) also can “demonstrate natural development” and “its soils, climate, flora, fauna and living development” and “its soils, climate, flora, fauna and living processes are neither damaged nor changed…”.

In the literature a broad range of terms and definitions has been used varying from natural, near- and semi-natural, ancient, etc. to old-growth, pristine and virgin forests, mainly to emphasize conditions with the absence of any human intervention.

Regarding the fact that the virgin forests are interesting today for the specialists not because there are no signs of human activity there, but because they have preserved original structure and dynamics, which may be used as a model for the close-to-nature forest management. In order to make up a set of criteria for the virgin forests identification most of researchers first of all fake into account their structure, dynamics, biogeography, biodiversity composition and minimal area (demonstration of ecological conditions without human impact). Based on the experiences of the virgin forest assessment in Romania and Bulgaria, the following definition of virgin forests has been proposed (Fanta et al, in prep):

According to the structure –

“Virgin forest is a natural woodland wherein tree and shrub species are present in various stages of their life cycle (seedlings, young growth, advanced growth, mature and old growth) and as dead wood (standing and lying on the ground) in various stages of decay, with a more or less complex vertical and horizontal structure as a result of natural development dynamics.”

According to the dynamics –

“In virgin forests the dynamics inherent to living systems are connected to ecological properties of dominant tree species, impact of abiotic factors related to geographical conditbns and climate, to the complex topography and site properties (geological substratum, soil, nutrients and water availability), and to the impact of other organisms (e.g. outbreak of insects). The complex effect of all these factors may lead to development of temporary canopy gaps or even larger treeless areas as part of the succession. Under the given conditions, the spontaneous dynamics enables the forest community to exist continuously and in all its forms without limit in time.”

According to the biogeography and biodiversity

“Virgin forests differ within each phytogeographic zone, forming specific forest types with their characteristic species compositbn, spatial structure, dynamics and overall diversity (including genetic diversity) due to site conditions related to the positbn above sea level and topography, macrodimate and nutrient and water availability.”

According to the minimum area

“Not every small forest fragment not influenced by man may be seen as a virgin forest. Next to time, spontaneous development of a forest also needs space. A minimum area wherein all succession stages of a forest community can fake place depend strongly on particular forest types and their potential disturbance regimes.”

Structural features (homogeneity or diversity in species composition, age and dimensions) deliver good characteristics of various development stages of the forest in question. They can be interpreted as есo-units, expressing, in the whole, the sylvatic mosaics of the woodland complex (Oldeman, 1990; Emborg, Christensen & Heilman-Clausen, 2000). An есе-unit is understood as an area where, at one point of the time, development of forest trees had begun as a regeneration unit. A sylvatic mosaic can be seen as a set of regeneration units of different ages and tree dimensions, forming a typical spatial structure. Structural features, projected and interpreted towards time, enable one to judge about development processes and character of possible disturbances, which influenced the development of the woodland in question in the past.

Leibundgut (1978), Mayer (1980) and others distinguished various development stages in virgin forests and proposed various schemes characterizing their development cycle. Based on extensive research, Когреl (1995) developed a scheme, which is primarily related to the way of disturbance and/or decay as the driving force of the change of the texture of the existing virgin forest. Within his three development stages he distinguished various phases depending on slow or fast decay process. His approach can be seen as a basic assumption for the evaluation of structural features of virgin forests of the temperate zone of Europe.

Source: Hamor F., Dovhanych Ya., Pokynchereda V., Sukharyuk D., Bundzyak Yo., Berkela Yu., Voloshchuk M., Hodovanets В., Kabal M. Virgin forests of Transcarpathia. Inventory and management. – Rakhiv, 2008. – 86 p.
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