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Summer green deciduous forest in autumn leaves near Hülshof, Central Hesse
Tropical dry forest , Madagascar

Forest (forest) in the everyday sense and in the sense of most technical languages ​​is a section of the earth's surface that is covered with trees and exceeds a certain minimum coverage and minimum size, depending on the context of interpretation .

The definition of forest is necessarily vague and depends on the context of meaning (everyday language, geographical, biological, legal, economic, cultural, ...). More precise definitions each only cover part of the context of meaning. A definition common in German forest science defines forest as a plant formation that "is essentially made up of trees and covers such a large area that a characteristic forest climate can develop on it". According to Section 2 of the German Federal Forest Act , a forest is “... any area covered with forest plants. Forest also includes cleared or cleared areas, forest paths and clearings ”.

Word origin and terminology

The word forest (from Middle High German / Old High German walt ) is based on a reconstructed ancient Germanic * walþu 'tuft', in this case 'foliage', 'twigs', which in turn could have emerged from Indo-European * wolɘt 'densely overgrown '. A relationship to the Latin vellere 'pluck' (cf. wool ) is also possible.

In typical cases, the colloquial term forest also corresponds to the technical definitions. The term becomes blurred towards the edges of its meaning and includes areas and forms of vegetation which, depending on the conception and definition used, may or may not be considered a forest. In a global overview, 63 different national definitions of “forest” were counted in a legal context alone, and 149 definitions for the term “tree”, which is essential for the definition. It is important to distinguish it from, for example, plantations made up of tree species (for example energy wood plantations, oil palm plantations,) tree-lined parks and green spaces, at least partially tree-lined pastures (in the English-speaking area under rangeland , e.g. also alpine pastures ) and open, For example, only partially tree-covered areas degraded by grazing or overuse, but also naturally partially open tree savannas .

In addition to numerous other, partly metaphorical uses (such as “ seaweed forest ”), four contexts of meaning are essential. It should be noted that, according to each of these definitions, areas can be defined as forests that would not be considered as such according to the others:

  • legal: forest is an area that is defined as such under the respective legislation according to the criteria specified in the law. In the German-speaking world, these are in Germany, the Federal Forest Act , in Austria, the Forest Act and in Switzerland, the Forest Act (WaG). This definition also includes non-tree-lined areas (sometimes referred to as “ non- wood floor” in forest terms ), for example wild meadows, wood storage areas, storm-thrown areas and clearcuts.
  • economic: Forest is any area that is used for forestry ( commercial forest or forest ). According to this definition, areas used for horticultural and agricultural purposes are not forests, for example energy wood plantations, Christmas tree crops, forest pastures with a predominantly pasture function, spontaneously reforested fallow land, but also densely tree-lined city parks and forest cemeteries.
  • Structural vegetation: Forest is a tree-lined area of ​​a certain extent with a minimum degree of coverage of the tree layer. According to this definition, an area loses its forest character if the proportion of trees per unit area falls below a certain, defined threshold value. This is particularly important in regions of the world with poorly developed administration or in very inaccessible regions in which the proportion of forest is determined with remote sensing by satellite measurements. For example, the total forest area of ​​the earth given in statistics and tables depends critically on the choice of the threshold value, B. in climate protection agreements, subject to political influence.
  • Ecological: The forest includes biocenoses whose community is characterized by species that are adapted to the ecological or location factors typical of the forest , in particular to the reduced illuminance, the internal forest climate and the forest soils. According to this definition, the forest depends critically on a minimum size that is necessary to guarantee the minimum area of ​​the species, which can be significantly larger than according to the legal definitions.

Internationally significant forest definitions are, for example:

  • FAO definition : Forest includes natural and planted forests ( plantations ). The term is used for land areas with a minimum proportion of the crown area of ​​the trees of 10%, on an area of ​​at least 0.5  ha . Forests are defined both by the presence of trees and by the absence of other predominant forms of land use. The trees must be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m. Young stands whose trees have not yet reached the necessary crown area and height, but where this is to be expected later, and only temporarily unwooded areas are counted as forests. The term includes forests that are used for production, protection, nature conservation or several of these purposes (e.g. national parks, nature reserves and other protected areas), and also forest stands in agricultural landscapes such as windbreaks with a minimum width of 20 meters, rubber and cork oaks - plantations. Trees expressly used for agricultural purposes, such as orchards, and agroforestry systems are excluded.

However, the FAO definition does not exclude tree plantations, for example of eucalyptus, which are largely ecologically worthless. This definition of the forest has therefore met with strong resistance among non-governmental organizations. The organizations Timberwatch , Rainforest Rescue and others have therefore submitted a petition to the FAO during the World Forestry Congress 2015 in Durban to change the definition.

  • UNESCO definition : Closed forest ( forest ) comprises trees with a height of more than 5 m (in subpolar areas: 3 m, in the tropics: 8–10 m) with a closed canopy. Stands with a height of more than 5 m with an open canopy are defined as open forest ("woodland"), provided that their cover exceeds 40% (i.e. the distance between two tree tops corresponds at most to the diameter of the crown).
  • Definition of the UNFCCC : Forest is a tree-lined land area of ​​at least 0.05–1 ha area with a canopy coverage (or corresponding forest cover) of more than 10–30%, with trees that have a minimum growth height of 2–5 m can achieve in situ . A forest can either be closed if trees on the various floors and the undergrowth cover a high percentage of the ground, or it can be open. Natural young stands and all plantations, which can achieve a crown cover of 10–30% or a height of 2–5 m later, are counted under forest, as well as associated areas that are temporarily caused by human influences such as clear cutting or for natural reasons are not forested if their regression to the forest can be expected. The signatory states of the Kyoto Protocol can freely select a value that applies to their country from the ranges left open in the definition, but it is expected that they will stick to this choice, i.e. not later manipulate the proportion of forests by changing the threshold values ​​up or down .

Spread of the forests

According to a study by ETH Zurich , there are an estimated 3,040 billion trees worldwide.

Forests occur worldwide as forest communities in areas with a certain minimum amount of precipitation (depending on the temperature ). If less precipitation falls , the forest turns into a dry savannah or steppe . For high altitudes and cold climates is the duration of the growing season for the success of the growing critical. From a certain height or high latitude there is a timber line , beyond which the tree growth is always open and has increasingly cripple forms. The tree line follows this Krummholzzone , above which no trees can grow at all.

Forest ecosystems

Mixed forest in Radziejowice (Central Poland)
Alder forest near Poznan (Poland)

Forests are complex ecosystems . With optimal use of resources, they are the most productive land ecosystem. After the oceans, they are the most important influencing factor of the global climate. They provide over other uses of the only effective global carbon dioxide valley, and are the most important oxygen producers. They have a balancing effect on the global material balance. Their biodiversity is an invaluable gene pool, the importance of which is increasingly recognized in industry.

Spatial division

The development of the various forest formations is due in particular to climatic factors. The prevailing temperatures and precipitation as well as their annual and daily cycle in the different climatic zones of the earth have led to the vegetation zones , zonobiomes and eco-zones to which certain forest types are assigned. In addition, the thermal altitude gradient in the altitude levels of the mountains leads to different, overlapping orobiomes . This is where the extrazonal mountain forest forms of the mountain climates emerged , which more or less resemble the comparable zonal forests. Ultimately, special location conditions (e.g. dunes, rocks, moors, coasts) require azonal forest types such as alluvial, swamp, quarry or mangrove forests, which also differ from the typical zonal forest formations of the respective environment.

Since closed forests are typical plant formations of humid climates with at least several months of moderate temperatures, with increasing aridity and cold they change over increasingly open forest and scrubland into wood-free vegetation types: For example in the boreal zone via the forest tundras into the tundras and cold deserts , in the temperate zone over the forest steppes into the steppes and winter-cold deserts , as well as from the subtropics over the macchia and from the tropics over the various types of savannah into the hot deserts .

The most extensive forest areas on earth are the tropical rainforests around the equator and the boreal forests of the cold temperate areas of the northern hemisphere ( Scandinavia , Russia , Alaska and Canada ).

As natural " primeval forests ", forest ecosystems are neither a temporally rigid nor a spatially homogeneous structure, but rather mosaics of zonal, azonal and extrazonal vegetation, the individual areas ( patches ) of which are influenced by the animal world (insect damage , game browsing , seed spread by animals, etc.) .) and are subject to periodic development .

Time horizons

The different influences, temporal factors as the basis for forest development and the resulting final forest community are in cyclic succession and Megaherbivorentheorie discussed.

Ecologically, a classification can be made according to succession stages : The mosaic cycle concept describes the forms of potentially natural forest development. Centuries of uninterrupted tillering are required for a complete range of species ( flora and fauna ) in climax forest communities. The stock forms discontinued through human use can also be classified in naturally occurring succession stages.

The mega- herbivore theory attaches greater importance to the large herbivores in forest development. How big their impact on vegetation would be no hunting by humans, but with hunting by the extinct or extinct in Central Europe predators (carnivores) is controversial.

Classification of forest communities according to vegetation zones

Forests of the tropics

Between the tropics of the sun, in tropical climates, a variety of different types of rainforests and cloud forests form when there is adequate moisture supply from rain (1800–2000 mm) . In the so-called “small water cycle ”, a high proportion can arise from the evaporation of the forest itself, provided that these forest areas are not below a certain size.

Tropical rainforests , which are the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems on earth, have year-round growth . It is estimated that 70% of all land-bound species on earth live in the tropical rainforest zone. The soil plays a crucial role in this productivity . Most of the tropical rainforests stand on laterite soil. This is very sterile because it hardly stores any nutrients. In areas of influence of the acid and oxygen-depleted black water (for example, at Rio Negro ) thrive black water forests . There are lowland rainforests and rainforests at medium altitude.

With increasing altitude, the rainforests in this climate change into mountain rainforests , cloud forests and cloud forests . Numerous epiphytes grow in a cloud forest . This lush vegetation is only surpassed by the mountain cloud forests that can be found in the hot, humid tropics from 2000 m above sea level. Skin ferns are mainly found here.

Above the real cloud forests, tropical forests from an altitude of 3,100 m (in Africa on Kilimanjaro ) or from an altitude of 4,000 m in the Andes merge into coppice-like vegetation. With increasing altitude, the high Andean area begins above the tree line , the Paramo .

In the tidal zone of tropical coasts grow mangrove forests , which are, however, affected by a sharp decline. The flora of the mangrove forests is limited to a relatively small number of mangrove tree species with special adaptations to the difficult living conditions of this habitat (e.g. salinity , periodic flooding or surf ). The highest diversity is observed in the Indo-Pacific region; West Africa and America are home to only a small number of mangrove tree species. In the direction of the northern or southern limits of distribution, the number of species continues to decrease. B. in Sinai ( Egypt ) or in northern New Zealand only one species of the genus Avicennia ( Avicennia marina ). Despite the biodiversity of the flora, a large number of animals use the mangrove forests.

Forests of the subtropics

The seasonal rainforests form as transitions to the rainforests , which are not irrigated by rain at more or less regular intervals. They grow in areas that are still mostly rich in precipitation, but have a shorter dry season.

In the subtropics, under the influence of the seasons near the tropics, the monsoon forests are formed , which are watered by the rainstorms brought by the eponymous winds. These rainy season forests do not have a typical shape, are very variable and develop according to the duration of the drought. Under normal circumstances, they shed significant leaves from drought. The laurel forests of the ever-humid east side climates , on the other hand, are evergreen again.

Arid forests thrive in areas with longer annual dry seasons and completely shed their leaves in such areas. They border on trade and monsoon forests on the one hand and thorn forests on the other. They are often cultivated and are no longer in their natural state due to the demand for teak and mahogany . The African variant of the dry bare forests is called Miombo .

In Venezuela, Brazil, India, Nepal and Africa, only thorn forests can flourish during prolonged dry seasons. They consist of umbrella acacias , mimosa and Caesalpinacea species. The funnel-shaped crowns of the trees are sparse and catch the little summer rain. Some thorn forests have also emerged from dry bare forests through human use.

As the amount of precipitation continues to decrease, succulent forests and finally the savannah emerge . In addition to grazing, slash and burn and human logging, termites have an impact on the forests of the subtropics.

Forests of the warm temperature zone

Both hard deciduous forests and deciduous forests with warm and humid climates can be found in this zone. The former are characterized by hard-leaf vegetation , i.e. evergreen plants with adaptations to long periods of drought in summer. You can find this area z. B. on the Mediterranean . A typical tree species in such forests is the holm oak .

Deciduous forests with warm, humid climates grow on the east side of the continents with heavy monsoon rains in summer and high temperatures; also in a summer-dry-winter-humid climate, when regular cloud formation weakens the summer dryness.

Forests of the nemoral zone

Forests of the boreonemoral transition zone

Boreal forests

The boreal coniferous forest zone covers an area of ​​1.4 billion ha (14 million km²) or about a third of the total forest area on earth. However, around 150 million hectares of this are temporarily not planted due to storms or fire. The boreal climatic zone joins the south of the arctic tundra and covers a north-south extension of 700 km in Europe and North America and up to 2000 km in Siberia . The west-east expansion covers the entire Eurasia from Norway to Kamchatka, plus Canada. It is therefore the most extensive closed forest area on earth. Boreal forests only exist in the northern hemisphere. The vegetation in the tree layer is dominated by conifers , especially Siberian larch , spruce , stone pine and common pine .


Primeval forest in the Manoa Valley, Oahu

Forests come closer to their natural ( ahemerobic ) state the less their tree species composition is changed by cultural human influence and the less their composition and way of organization depend on the additional supply of energy into the biological production processes beyond the irradiating solar energy.

Primeval forests

The intact forest landscapes within the forest-covered areas of the world ( Intact Forest Landscapes , IFL) are completely uncut, largely uninhabited, ecologically intact, naturally grown forest landscapes with a minimum size of 50,000 ha and a minimum width of 10 km, which are not used for forestry and in the last 30–70 years have not been used industrially for any other purpose. The IFL concept was developed by the World Resources Institute and continued u. a. by Global Forest Watch and Greenpeace . It is based primarily on the evaluation of satellite images.

Primeval forests (also: primary forests ) are the most natural forest ecosystems. According to the definition of the FAO ( Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ), they are forest areas that have natural vegetation, are without any visible human influence and whose natural dynamics are undisturbed. In 2005 around 36% of all forests worldwide met these criteria, and forests that have already been restored can also meet this FAO definition. The area will be reduced by 6 million hectares a year.

Colloquially, primeval forest often only refers to the tropical rainforest , but the term also refers to the taiga of the northern hemisphere, to mountain forests , to bushes worldwide and to many other forest formations.

Primeval forests outside of Europe

According to the strict IFL definition (see map explanation), only 21% of the world's forests are untouched primeval forests, with French Guiana with 79% having the highest proportion of primeval forest in the total forest.

The largest share of the total primeval forest area worldwide, each around 36%, is made up of the primeval forests of South America (mostly tropical rainforest ) and the boreal coniferous forests in the cold temperate zone in northern North America and Eurasia . The remaining primeval forests of Eurasia in the cool temperate zone , subtropics and tropics make up a further 15%, followed by Africa with just under 8%. According to the Frontier Forests study by the World Resources Institute in 1997, the smallest proportion of primeval forests in the world, at 3%, is the deciduous and mixed forests of the cool temperate zone.

Despite global efforts to protect the primeval forests, their area decreased by 7.2% between 2000 and 2013, which corresponds to around 90 million hectares and thus roughly the area of Nigeria . Around 60% of the decline was accounted for by the tropical rainforests (especially in the Amazon basin , also in the Congo Basin and in Southeast Asia ), and 19% by the boreal coniferous forests in the cold temperate zone. 52% of the losses of all IFL are in the three countries Canada, Russia and Brazil, which also contain two thirds of all IFL areas. Globally, only 12.4% of IFL are considered protected.

Primeval forests of Europe

Extremely rare: primeval forests of the deciduous forest zone in Europe. Germany is placing near-natural old forest areas for the “primeval forests of tomorrow” under process protection (here Kellerwald National Park ).
Serrahner Altwald in the Müritz National Park , one of the most valuable primeval beech forests in Germany
The so-called " Primeval Forest Sababurg " in northern Hesse was formerly used as a hut forest .
By far the largest real primeval forests of European deciduous forest communities are located south of the Caspian Sea in Iran.

According to the IFL criteria, 6.4% are still considered intact, natural forest ecosystems in Europe. Worldwide, they make up less than 3% of the primeval forests. By far the largest primeval forests in Europe (over 90%) are located in the taiga of northern Russia (west of the Urals). Outside of Russia, the largest primeval forest areas exist in Scandinavia, there especially at the foot of the Scandi in Sweden (around 1.4 million ha according to the IFL standard). Compared to the non-European primeval forests, however, these forests are also comparatively tiny.

The aforementioned primeval forest areas are almost exclusively boreal coniferous forests or mountain forests, only 1% of the intact natural forests are located as “primeval forest relics” in the deciduous and mixed forests of the warm temperate climate zone . Since the concepts about reforestation and theories about potential natural vegetation are not free of contradictions, it is also difficult to define a primeval forest in the densely populated and heavily used regions of Europe for centuries. The mosaic cycle concept , which is used more frequently today, is more suitable for this .

  • The last large-scale jungle wilderness in the warm temperate climatic zone of Central Europe (also according to IFL criteria) is in the western southern Carpathians of Romania and covers over 100,000 hectares (including the Retezat and Domogled-Valea Cernei national parks ). On the most recent IFL map (2000–2013), however, it is marked as completely degraded. There are also some important primeval red beech forests in Romania, such as B. in the Semenic area of ​​the Western Carpathians. The Semenic-Cheile Carașului National Park there is home to an approximately 5000 hectare area of ​​primeval forest with beeches up to 140 cm ( chest height diameter ) and up to 50 m high. The age of the oldest beeches is given as 350–400 years. The largest tree is a mountain elm with a diameter of 198 cm at chest height.
  • Primeval red beech forests have also been preserved in the Ukrainian and Slovak Forest Carpathians . They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since July 2007. The largest red beech forest with around 10,000 hectares is located in the Uholsko-Shyrokoluzhanskyy massif , a limestone massif up to 1501 m high northeast of the city of Chust .
  • In addition, some parts of the Dinaric mountain forests , including the Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Biogradska Gora in Montenegro , are considered to be primeval forests with up to 63 m high spruce and 60 m high fir trees, which are also the tallest trees in Europe.
  • Another important relic of the primeval forest of the Mediterranean ecozone can be found in Orjen in Montenegro, where rare forest communities such as the Dinaric karst block dump fir forest and snake skin pine rock forests occur.
  • In Lower Austria, the Dürrenstein wilderness area is Central Europe 's largest primeval forest area with 3500 ha, of which about 400–500 ha have not seen an ax since the last ice age.
  • The mountain forests of the high mountains of the Alps are to be regarded as relatively close to nature in terms of their existence if they are remote or inaccessible. Nonetheless, substitute societies have established themselves here as well or have been completely replaced by alpine pastures .
  • There are three primeval forest relics in Switzerland: the Bödmerenwald in the canton of Schwyz (with an unspoilt core area of ​​around 150 ha), the primeval fir forest of Lac de Derborence in the canton of Valais (22 ha) and the spruce forest Scatlè near Brigels in the canton of Graubünden (9 ha) .
  • A mixed forest similar to primeval forest is located in the Białowieża National Park between Poland and Belarus . This area is known for its mighty oak, elm, ash and linden trees; the beech is missing because it is outside of its range.
  • There are no longer any real primeval forests in Germany. Primeval forest-like, near-natural relics of minimal size (~ 20-40 ha) can be found in and around the Bavarian Forest National Park (at Höllbachgspreng , Mittelsteighütte and Arberseewand), in the Harz National Park , in the Thuringian Forest and in Northern Hesse (see Kellerwald-Edersee National Park ) . The old red beech forests in the center of the Hainich National Park also have primeval forest-like structures, which have not been subject to human use since the 1960s. With over 5000 hectares, the Hainich National Park is also currently the largest unused deciduous forest area in Germany.

In Western Asia , on the eastern edge of the beech area between the Elburs Mountains and the Caspian Sea, there is the last large-scale primeval forest that goes beyond relics and partially represents the potentially natural forest communities of Central Europe : 300,000 hectares of 2,000,000 hectares in Iran were still considered "untouched" in 1998 designated ( Caspian Hyrcania mixed forest ).

Natural economic forests

A forest can be considered relatively close to nature if the tree population is indigenous and the composition is wholly or almost natural. Nevertheless, such commercial forests are subject to economic objectives that determine the harvest age long before the natural age limit is reached. In Central Europe, such forests are often characterized by beeches, mixed mountain forests , hardwoods and pines, depending on the location . Non- autochthonous oak commercial forests can still be considered relatively natural.

More natural economic forests

Such forests are characterized by foreign tree species with or without artificially created restricted genetic diversity or by tree species that are not adapted to given locations. In many areas these are pine-spruce mixed forests and mixed forests with the participation of larch . Unmixed spruce cultures and larch stands of the planar and colline level of the low mountain range are even more remote from nature , in the Alps pure spruce forests above the spruce-fir level and above the larch level are native.


Plantation forests represent the most natural forest systems on earth. As a rule, they consist of just one single fast-growing tree species (often eucalyptus and certain pines such as Monterey pine ). Plantations represent a transition form to agriculture and are characterized by intensive tillage, the regular use of fertilizers and pesticides and very short rotation times of often less than 10 years. The plant material is constantly improved through breeding. The breeds are usually cloned en masse. Genetically modified organisms are also used, among other things.

Plantations are characterized by a comparatively very high profitability (not infrequently in the range of 15–20%); Plantations are rarely found in Central Europe. However, poplar crops are gaining in importance as an energy source . Regulated forestry takes place almost exclusively in the form of plantations, especially in countries in the southern hemisphere.

Environmentalists warn that tree plantations are largely ecologically worthless, damage the groundwater and lead to social conflicts. This is why there is strong opposition from non-governmental organizations to these fake forests or planted forests . The organizations Timberwatch , Rainforest Rescue and others therefore submitted a petition to the FAO during the World Forestry Congress 2015 in Durban to change the definition of forest.

Functions of the forest

Forest damage in the Ore Mountains

Forests essentially fulfill three groups of core functions: the economic (economic benefits), the ecological (protection of living space, the basis of life) and the social functions (recreation / leisure space). There are also some special functions. Some of these functions are performed by the forest without human intervention (e.g. the production of oxygen), others are only made possible through the services of forestry (e.g. forest paths that also allow cycling). The owner of the forest is responsible for implementing the various functions. If all functions are performed simultaneously, adequately and without losing their basis and regenerative capacity, then one speaks of sustainable forestry . In 1997, the annual global forest functions were estimated to be 4.7 trillion US dollars. At that time that corresponded to about a quarter of the global gross national product.

This diversity of requirements leads to conflicts between various interest groups in management and other uses (the regulation of these conflicts is the task of forest policy ). Points of dispute here are often the extent to which a forest owner is actually obliged to provide (often free) services solely through his property .

What functions the forest has to fulfill is already an initial subject of discussion. At the international level, agreements are made between states with the participation of interest groups. The catalog of forest functions is continuously being expanded. According to the scheme of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe , forests currently (February 2008) have to consider 17 aspects or functions.

Economic use of the forest

A distinction is made in the economic use of the forest:

The phytogenic (vegetable) resources - such as B. Wood - belong to the renewable resources .

Historical development

Since the prehistory of humans ( hunters and gatherers ) components of the forest ecosystem have been used as a natural resource . In addition to animals, this also includes wild plants such as berries, herbs, fiber plants and edible mushrooms or secretions such as tree resin , pitch and the like, forest pasture for feeding cultivated animals, cattle and dead wood as fuel . In addition, the use of living trees as fuel, work and building material developed early on: until fossil fuels were exploited economically , wood from the forest was the most important energy source . Only at the beginning of the 18th century developed as a result of by -exploitation caused wood shortage , the forestry as a concept for sustainable use: Against the backdrop of an unregulated, crushing overuse of forest became a forest .

Forests around the world have undergone major changes in terms of their use and characteristics. Depending on the type of use and intensity are formed within a forest system replacement companies from which are derived from the naturally cyclic succession of a jungle often differ considerably.


The Forestry also provides services (the example mentioned of forest road construction, securing this way) and goods that need to be not normally paid by the beneficiaries as a legal basis for this is lacking, or because the markets do not exist. There is therefore market failure . This applies in particular to CO 2 storage and sequestration , tourism and local recreation and (especially in the case of tropical rainforests) genetic material. The provision of soil, air and water protection functions and the preservation of biodiversity are generally not remunerated.

Ecological problems

Ecological problems with the increasing intensification of forest management can, among other things, lead to excessive removal of biomass from the forest and soil compaction by forest machines.

  • In addition to traditional trunk wood , weak and residual wood is increasingly being used to extract wood chips and thus increasingly extract important nutrients from the ecosystem as a source of humus . This can lead to a lack of nutrients in new growth, for example for potassium and phosphorus , which are hardly found in the soil as water-soluble substances and are often only very slowly returned by air dust or animal excrement.
  • When harvesting heavier equipment used cause soil compaction and can permanently damage the delicate structure looser forest soils.
  • Also pesticides which are sprayed against forest pests , z. B. cyhalothrin , cypermethrin and tebufenozide are viewed critically.

Protective functions (ecology)

The forest stand is one of the most important microclimatic factors.


Forest protects the soil on which it grows from soil erosion in a variety of ways . The canopy and the multi-storey structure of the forest reduce the kinetic energy of raindrops and wind. The rooting causes a consolidation of the soil and protects against erosion, also by wind (soil erosion). Typical examples are the mangrove forest in coastal protection or forests as protection against desertification and karstification .

Geodynamic mass movements

The avalanches - rockfall - and mudflow protection is relevant as forest function in steep terrain. The occurrence of avalanches is prevented, falling avalanches are slowed down in their force by the forest and largely intercepted. The regulative power of the forest on rock and earth movements is based on a combination of rooting and the buffering of the erosive forces of water (precipitation, seepage , water runoff ).


In addition to protecting against the erosive power of water, forests are of great importance as water reservoirs for the earth's water cycle and the availability of drinking water and irrigation as well as energy generation through hydropower . Forests can provide water for longer and in larger quantities than comparable open spaces. Surface runoff of rainwater is slowed down; Similar to a sponge, water is stored in the soil. The evaporation decreases due to the shading of the ground by the vegetation (however, the transpiration increases ).


Under emission protection functions is meant to filter the air of aerosols of all kinds and of toxins or radioactivity . Forests make an important contribution to water protection by cleaning water in the same way.

Privacy and noise protection

Immission control also includes damping effects in relation to light and sound. The privacy protection function of forests can be relevant for the well-being of humans. Likewise, young leafy forests can reduce noise by around half compared to open spaces.

Flora and fauna

Forests are often relatively little intensively used areas with little input of fertilizers and pesticides. The stress from noise and other disturbances is also reduced. For this reason, forests represent a retreat for shy animals. Pronounced forest animals such as the fire salamander and plant species that are specially adapted to life there are known as silvicol . In this way, the forest fulfills species protection functions in the context of nature conservation. With regard to the protection of biodiversity, natural reforestation, as with tourism and landscape protection (see below), sometimes also poses a problem: open, extensively used areas or fallow land are repopulated by trees. Without human intervention, these open landscapes would disappear in the long term. This means a depletion of habitats and a loss of biodiversity, as many plants and animals only live in meadows.

Forests as a global climate regulator and carbon sink

During photosynthesis , the green plants withdraw from the air (CO 2 ), which is mainly responsible for the currently observed global warming , and release oxygen (O 2 ) in return. The forest binds carbon in its biomass. A total of around 862 billion tons of carbon are bound in forests worldwide, both in the vegetation itself and in the soil. About 471 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in tropical forests, 272 billion tonnes in boreal forests and 119 billion tonnes in temperate forests, which include most of Europe's forests. In the German forest 2.2 billion tons of carbon are bound.

The carbon fixation through tree growth can only be comprehensively balanced in conjunction with the subsequent use of wood. Are forests managed sustainably and close to nature - as z. B. happens in most forests in Europe and is guaranteed by certification systems - the carbon dioxide bound by the tree is stored as carbon in the wood body. By using wood as a material, it can be stored over a long period of time, e.g. B. in a wooden structure 50 years and more. Wood products such as paper and cellulose can be reused, which extends the carbon fixation before the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide through energy recovery or rotting .

As a result of global warming, the vegetation cover in forests in northern latitudes is increasing. As a result, more organic molecules can get into the waters, which in turn are broken down by the microbes in the lake sediments. This creates carbon dioxide and methane as by-products, so that greenhouse gas emissions from northern freshwater lakes could increase by 1.5 to 2.7 times.

As part of international climate protection agreements such as For example, under the Kyoto Protocol (KP), forests are also regarded as climate factors due to their ability to bind carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Forests are generally viewed as carbon sinks and can be included in the national CO 2 balance. However, this is only partially correct because forests represent a real carbon sink, especially when they are growing. Established forests, on the other hand, contribute to a small extent to the net carbon dioxide fixation, while undisturbed primeval forests with no net increase do nothing at all. However, they represent stores for carbon, which is released as carbon dioxide when they are deforested.

Forestry for targeted carbon fixation

Sink projects represent a special form of national reduction possibilities, but also JI and CDM projects (Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism ). Sinks are basically understood to be carbon sequestration and storage in vegetation and soil. A distinction is made between forests (Article 3.3 CP) and agricultural areas (Article 3.4 CP). Possible project types are afforestation and reforestation, management measures on existing forest, arable and grassland areas, and greening of wasteland. However, the release of carbon from deforestation must also be taken into account. A report was commissioned to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to examine the risks and possibilities of counting the sink . The Land use, Land-use change, and Forestry (LULUCF) report, completed in 2000, found great uncertainties in many areas. In particular, there are scientific uncertainties regarding the amount of bound CO 2 . The rates of absorption during plant growth, as well as the periods of binding, are difficult to determine. Together with the problem of determining the vegetation density on large areas, there are great uncertainties when extrapolating the total amount. These problems are even more serious when they are stored in soils, since the underlying biochemical processes are more complex and, in addition, greater releases of CO 2 and methane must be expected. In addition to the scientific uncertainties, the control of the regulations is seen as problematic. Exact regulations regarding the quantification of greenhouse gas storage and monitoring have not yet been determined, but should be developed and proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. Despite the high level of uncertainty and resistance from some signatory states, it was decided at the climate conference in Bonn ( COP  6b) to include sink projects in fulfilling the obligations. At the next conference in Marrakech (COP 7) the first important definitions and regulations for the crediting of sinks according to Articles 3.3 and 3.4 were agreed. In particular, the exact definition and demarcation of the term 'forest' was established. Here, ranges were determined for the minimum area (0.05–1 ha), the minimum vegetation density (10 to 30%) and the minimum height (2–5 m) of the vegetation, from which the obligated parties framework values ​​for a national definition of the term 'forest' have to choose. Before the start of the first commitment period (i.e. before 2008), the obligated states must determine which of the management measures, i.e. H. Forestry, arable land and grassland management as well as greening of wasteland, for which credits should be counted under Article 3.4. No stipulation is necessary for afforestation and reforestation. Sink projects in Germany generate emission reduction credits, so-called Removal Units (RMU), which cannot be carried over to the next commitment period. In addition, they are subject to certain restrictions in terms of their eligibility in the first commitment period. Management measures can only be taken into account up to an upper limit set individually for each party. For Germany, this upper limit is 1.24 million tons of carbon per year. There are also restrictions for sink projects abroad. In this context, it is important that negotiations begin for the post-2012 period . LULUCF is an important topic in these negotiations.

Social functions: recreation area and tourism

Cultural and historical significance

Jochen Kusber : Mystical Forest (1997)

The forest was a popular motif in various epochs of art history and literary history . The forest is one of the most important settings for myths from different cultures as well as folk tales and folk tales . Especially in the German Romantic era , the forest was greatly admired as a symbol of picturesque nature, but also of the unfathomable and contradicting world. The forest is omnipresent in the works of the painters Caspar David Friedrich and Moritz von Schwind or the poet Joseph von Eichendorff . The forest is also a popular setting in modern literature and in film , with its dramaturgical function ranging from the transfigured idyll to the eerie horror backdrop.

Today's meaning

Health and psychological aspects

People like to stay in forests for health reasons and for recreational purposes. According to various studies, visitors appreciate the clean air in a forest (the vegetation acts as a filter), smells are perceived as pleasant, and stress-causing noises are muffled, which lowers blood pressure. The balanced indoor forest climate is characterized by higher humidity and pleasant coolness in summer. The forest is also certified to have a positive effect on the psychological state (distraction, inspiration ) and opportunities to maintain social life (especially with children and collectors).

For these reasons, the legal status of the recreational forest has existed in Germany and, in addition, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania since 2011 the status of the spa and medicinal forest has been in place .

Forest bathing

The phenomenon of “ forest bathing ” (Japanese shinrin-yoku, 森林 浴) has become internationally known from Japan since the 1980s . It describes the meditative experience and the health effects of a stay in the forest. Japanese scientists in particular have looked at changes in the immune system caused by forest habitat and measured an increased activity of natural killer cells . In Germany the term plays a role within esotericism, alternative medicine and nature tourism .

Forest and sport

In addition to local recreation, people also use the forest, which is made accessible by a network of paths, for sporting activities (hiking, Nordic walking, jogging, Nordic skiing, mountain biking, etc.). In this area, the Black Forest has achieved worldwide fame for its forest tourism. The early 20th century landscaped remote trails ( Westweg , middle , Ostweg ) served as a model for many other long-distance trails. A natural sport in the forest that is particularly popular in Scandinavia is orienteering . Here it is important to orientate yourself with a map and compass and to approach given points on a route of your choice, if necessary cross-country.

Forest education

The forest education is trying to make the various meanings of the forest means of popular and promote a positive emotional relationship with the forest. In addition to information facilities such as the more than a thousand forest nature trails in Germany alone , attempts are constantly being made to develop new, more target-group-oriented methods.

Forest kindergartens , which relocate the children's play to the great outdoors - often to the forest - are becoming increasingly popular in Germany .

Special functions

Forest in Schleswig-Holstein

Forests represent a part of the cultural heritage. In their present form they are an element of our landscape, which, according to the general opinion and also from a legal point of view, is an asset worth protecting. For this reason, a conversion of forest (i.e. to building land or other use) is only possible in exceptional cases in the DACH countries . As a rule, concession services also have to be provided, which can also include the afforestation of land. The special functions also include the contribution to monument protection (natural monuments are very old or striking trees, rocks, waterfalls, but also barrows and other human traces).

Forests are also an object for teaching and research. It is not only basic research that helps today in researching still unknown areas of the jungle. The pharmaceutical industry has already achieved some success in finding new active ingredients for drugs by buying up virgin forest areas and sending biologists to research the area. This form of "sponsoring" environmental protection is not only used for propaganda advertising purposes.

Forests around the world are protected by states as habitats for plant and animal species. Various programs serve environmental protection and for this purpose are also financially supported by the industrialized countries. This does not only mean the protection of primeval forests, but also, for example, the establishment of protected forests in Europe. These forests, accompanied by research, are allowed to develop into primeval forests again.

Forest-wild conflict

Wise area for assessing the influence of wildlife on natural regeneration - note the lack of
regeneration outside the fence

High game densities of herbivores, especially ungulates , can browsing a target for environmental or economic point of natural regeneration of the forest impede or prevent. By giving preference to certain tree species, selective browsing can displace mixed tree species from the stand and thus reduce tree species diversity. Planted forest cultures that are not protected by individual tree protection or fences are also affected by game damage. Peeling damage can endanger older forest stands that have already outgrown the browsing for decades and, in the event of damage, destabilize and economically devalue.

For this reason, "organic hunting" is often required in order to limit the game population and to protect the forest. It is argued that this is necessary in the absence of large predators such as lynx and wolf to ensure healthy rejuvenation of the population. However, since the presence of these predators does not affect the population size of their prey, this argument is not valid, as the hunt usually removes significantly more game than the wolf and lynx.

From an ecological point of view, the browsing and peeling behavior of the deer should be understood as an indication that large ungulates, in the sense of the megaherbivore hypothesis , are able to actively influence and shape their environment and thus ensure natural open lands .

Foresters, nature conservation associations and forest owners describe this so-called forest-game conflict - to clarify the conflict of objectives and the actors, sometimes also as a forest - hunting or forest owner-hunter conflict - with regard to the desired forest conversion towards climate-stable mixed forests as significant Problem considered.

Stock development and condition in forests and forests

Forests dominate under natural circumstances wherever trees prove to be more competitive with other plants such as grasses. Such conditions can be found in large areas on the earth's land. Disturbances in forest development have always been catastrophic events such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but also climatic changes such as the change between warm and cold periods in the Quaternary. Pollen analyzes show the progressive repopulation of previously icy land areas by trees of different species from their refuges at the end of the Ice Ages . Forests are also disturbed by animals. With their sometimes destructive activities on trees, elephants create the typical savannah appearance of a grassy landscape that is loosely planted with trees. In the monotonous boreal forests of America and Eurasia, disturbances occur again and again due to the mass reproduction of insects, which cause damage to needles or other parts of the plant body, causing large areas of trees to die within a short period of time.

Humans have had a major influence on forest development since the first days of civilization. Above all, forests were cleared in order to gain settlement and arable land. Later, the use of wood as an energy source and raw material came to the fore in European countries. The formerly wooded bush landscapes of the Mediterranean area and the deforestation -shaped appearance of the countries of former seafaring nations bear witness to this development. Overall, the sight of the landscape that Europeans are used to today, with its alternation of fields, grassland, forest and settlements, is almost the sole result of human activity. The share of forest in land use changes only marginally in affluent countries today.

The proportion of forests that are more than 140 years old has fallen from 89 to 66 percent since 1900.

Outside Europe there are still large contiguous forest areas, the size of which is being reduced by around 13 million hectares net annually. The main areas of development are Latin America, the Congo Basin and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia).

According to a study published in the journal Nature in 2018, the area covered by forest in the tropics continued to decrease significantly between 1982 and 2016 , while the total number of trees in the global balance increased by 2.24 million km² (7.1 percent) since bare land in the agricultural areas of Asia has been reduced. The increasing tree cover says nothing about the ecological quality of the forests and the destruction of the forest, tree plantations are included. Arid and semi-arid ecosystems lost vegetation cover, in mountainous areas the forest cover of the soils increased. The states of Latin America are to be mentioned among the stronger losses in the southern hemisphere, in Brazil an area of ​​385,000 square kilometers disappeared.

According to the FAO (July 2020), Africa overtook South America in terms of annual deforestation area in the 2010–2019 ten-year period.


Mixed oak forest

With 11,419,124 hectares, forest covers 32% of the German state area, as the Third National Forest Inventory (2012) found. The German forest area increased by around 48,000 hectares between 2002 and 2012. During the same period, the wood supply rose by 227 million solid cubic meters to a total of 3.663 billion solid cubic meters or 336 m³ / ha, which is a historic record. Of the German forest area, 48% are private forests , 32.5% state forests (29% state forests and 3.5% federal forests ) and 19.4% corporate forests . The comparatively high proportion of forest is mainly due to the reforestation efforts of the 19th century.

The forest area grew by an average of 3500 hectares per year between 1989 and 2003. Compared to the forest area, 25% of Germany can be assigned to the settlement area, of which 50% is completely sealed (increasing by 129 ha or 47,000 ha per year). This destroys around 3500 hectares of forest every year. The increase in the forest area results from afforestation (mainly of agricultural areas) and the successive forestation of degenerated bog sites. Nevertheless, Germany is again one of the most forested countries in the European Union.

The tree species composition is also steadily approaching the potentially natural composition. By nature, 67% of Germany's land area would be covered by mixed beech forests, 21% by mixed oak forests, 9% by floodplain forests or damp lowland forests, 2% by swamp forests and 1% by pure coniferous forests (Meister and Offenberger, Zeit des Waldes, p. 36, see literature). In the upper forest layer, i.e. the older trees, the tree species distribution is still 14.8% beech , 9.6% oak , 15.7% other deciduous trees , 28.2% spruce , 23.3% pine , 1.5% Firs and 4.5% other conifers. That makes a ratio of about 40% deciduous trees to 60% conifers. In the so-called lower class, i.e. the young generation of forests, the relationship has turned into the opposite due to the forest conversion that has been forced by forest owners for many decades. In the younger generation of forests there are only 30% conifers and 70% deciduous trees, mainly beeches. The large proportion of spruce and pine in the upper class is due to the high demand for wood at the time of industrialization and numerous wars in the last 150 years: These tree species are fast-growing and undemanding and were therefore used to reforest degenerate locations such as heaths, drained bogs and overused coppice forests used especially in the 19th century. On the other hand, spruce stands in particular suffer from wind and snow throw as well as insect damage (e.g. from bark beetles) and lead to acidification of the soil. The umbrella association of forest owners assumes that droughts, storms and a bark beetle plague in 2018 and 2019 will result in a total of 70 million cubic meters of so-called damaged wood .

Spruces and pines are relatively insensitive to game bites (usually it is not necessary to fence the young crops). In many places, the relatively tall hoofed game hinder the emergence of deciduous trees and firs that are more vulnerable to browsing. In addition, the wood of spruce and pine is more versatile than hardwood. About 80% of our wood products are made from softwood. Due to the wood species-specific properties (wood density, strength, elasticity, resistance to fungi) of spruce and pine, the wood species can hardly be replaced by hardwood. In order to be able to satisfy the demand for the raw material also in the future, a certain proportion of coniferous wood must be preserved in our mixed forests. The advantage of mixed forests is greater biodiversity, better stability, less susceptibility to extreme insect damage and a balanced portfolio of wood species in order to be able to meet the demand for wood as an ecological raw material.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture publishes an annual forest status report on the results of the forest environmental monitoring of forest trees in Germany.


Mixed larch forest in southern Austria

In Austria , the forest area is around 4.0 million ha, that is 48% of the national territory (8.4 million ha). Only 0.7% of Austrian forests are still in a natural state or are strictly protected. Due to the mountainous terrain, the proportion of protective forest is around 20% (755,000 ha). More than 2/3 is coniferous forest . The most common tree species is spruce with over 50% of all trees, followed by beech with 10%, pine 9% and larch 6.8%, all of them much rarer tree species. The greatest densities of forest cover are in the foothills of the Alps from Salzburg to Lower Austria and on the eastern edge of the Alps , from Kor and Saualpe over the mountains of the Mur-Mürz area to Wechsel. The federal state of Styria has the largest forest area in Austria, the most forested district in Austria is the Lilienfeld district in Lower Austria, which has around 80% forest area.

Two thirds of the forests are intact according to the last forest inventories. The only problem is the protective forests. 30% more wood grows back than is consumed or is damaged by wind breakage or game bites . Since expensive timber production competes with cheaper imports, the timber in the forest is often not felled. The forest is reclaiming territory not only through afforestation, but also through the closure of agricultural areas.

The productive forest comprises 83% of the forest area, mainly Hochwald (taper from seeds, long life cycle), rash forest is below 3%. In the productive forest, the spruce has a share of 61.4%. In terms of wood stocks per area, Austria ranks second in a European comparison with 325.0 m³ / ha. The largest forest owners are the Austrian federal forests with 523,000 hectares, 1.73 million hectares are agricultural forests, there are a total of 170,000 forest owners. The private forest is share - far above the European average - about 80% of private forests share (less than 200 ha Cadastral area) is given (40-50% of total forest area) between 1.56 million ha and 2.13 million ha.

The largest private forest owners in Austria are aristocratic families and ecclesiastical foundations, first and foremost the forestry company Mayr-Melnhof- Saurau, Esterházy Betriebe GmbH, the Fürstlich Schwarzenberg family foundation , the Persenbeug estate of the Habsburg-Lothringen family and the Prince Liechtenstein Foundation . The largest spiritual owner is Admont Abbey . However, the largest forest owner overall, after the Austrian Federal Forests, is the city of Vienna, especially in the headwaters of the high spring water pipes .


Coniferous forest in the Surselva

Around a third of Switzerland is forested. That is quite a lot when you take into account that large parts of the country do not allow forest cover due to the topography. The Forest Act , which has stipulated in various versions since 1903, that the forest area should not be reduced and that clearing is fundamentally prohibited (special permits can be granted) has contributed to this.

In terms of wood stocks per area, Switzerland ranks first in Europe with 336.6 m³ / ha. Although storms like Vivian or Lothar caused great damage, the forest has increased by 4% in the last twenty years (as of 2011); However, it extends primarily in the mountains and in other marginal locations, on so-called marginal soils. According to specialist circles, however, logging could still be increased significantly. For economic reasons, however, logging is not lucrative in many places.

In the Alps, forests fulfill an important protective function against avalanches and erosion . These protective forests make up around 10% of the Swiss forest area and are under special protection.

The Federal Research Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape deals with the use and protection of landscapes and habitats, with a focus on forests and natural hazards.


Legal bases in Germany

The legal provisions on the forest, known as forest law or forest law, are regulated in Germany by the Federal Forest Act. Forest law is part of environmental law . Like this in general, the Federal Forest Act is partially considered a framework law (that means that the principles are laid down there, but the federal states can make their own detailed regulations). Sub-areas such as the forestry regulations are subject to competing legislation (the states can issue their own regulations, but these will be overridden as soon as the federal government makes appropriate regulations). The following laws apply to forest law as state law :

state law
Germany Federal Forest Act (law for the conservation of the forest and the promotion of forestry)
Baden-Württemberg Forest Act for Baden-Württemberg
Bavaria Bavarian Forest Act
Berlin Law for the Conservation and Care of the Forest
Brandenburg Forest Act of the State of Brandenburg
Bremen Forest Act for the State of Bremen
Hamburg State Forest Act
Hesse Hessian Forest Act
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Forest Act for the State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
Lower Saxony Lower Saxony law on forests and landscape regulations
North Rhine-Westphalia State forest law for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia
Rhineland-Palatinate State Forest Act
Saarland Forest Act for the Saarland
Saxony Forest Act for the Free State of Saxony
Saxony-Anhalt Law for the conservation and management of the forest, for the promotion of forestry as well as for entering and using the open landscape in the state of Saxony-Anhalt
Schleswig-Holstein Forest Act for the State of Schleswig-Holstein
Thuringia Law for the conservation, protection and management of the forest and the promotion of forestry

See also



Web links

Commons : Forest  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Forest  Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Forest  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Urwald  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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