Wind disturbances shape old Norway spruce-dominated forest in Bulgaria

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Correct knowledge of disturbance ecology is essential for understanding the characteristic behavior of forest ecosystems and for guiding appropriate management strategies. However, the role of natural disturbances in shaping European mountain forest ecosystems has not been adequately studied, possibly because of the perception that the development of most European forests is primarily shaped by human influences and/or fine-scale gap-phase dynamics.In the present study, we investigate the long-term disturbance history of old protected forest dominated by Norway spruce in the Parangalitsa Reserve, Bulgaria. We used aerial photo interpretation and dendroecological methods to reconstruct the history of wind, insect, and fire disturbances across a topographically complex landscape. Over the past 150. years wind has been the most important disturbance agent in this ecosystem and at least 18% of the forested area shows evidence of high-severity blowdowns. Windthrow patches ranged in size from 10. ha (minimum 0.11. ha, mean 0.16. ha, maximum 10. ha). Although small disturbances were much more frequent, few larger blowdowns accounted for most of the disturbed area. Pure coniferous and single-cohort coniferous forest patches were more affected by blowdowns than mixed coniferous-deciduous and multi-cohort coniferous forest patches. Although bark beetle (Ips typhographus) populations were large enough to cause mortality of some live trees, the populations did not grow to epidemic proportions during recent decades. Fire disturbance was of limited importance in the last 200. years and only two patches (4% of the study area) showed evidence of fire.The present research indicates that wind disturbances have been characteristic of these ecosystems at least over the past decades to centuries. Thus, blowdowns appear integral to the normal function and structure of the Picea-dominated mountain forests in the region and such events, in and of themselves, do not represent unhealthy forest conditions or environmental emergencies. Management strategies that aim to maintain these ecosystems within a natural range of variation should incorporate wind disturbances into the management strategy. The frequency and magnitude of future wind disturbances may be considered within the historical framework described in the current study to assess potential effects of climate change on altered disturbance regimes. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

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Forest Ecology and Management

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Bulgaria, Dendroecology, disturbance, forest dynamics, Picea, windthrow