Link zu WSL Hauptseite Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Research and effectiveness controlling in Swiss forest reserves

A cooperative project of WSL, ETH and FOEN (Federal Office of the Environment)

  • Federal funding for Swiss forest reserve research for 2016-2019 has been secured.
  • In 2015 inventories in the following forest reserves are planned: La Niva, Murgtal, Follatères, Mettlenrain-Höchi and Tamangur.

Fig. 1 - The virgin forest Scatlè near Brigels in the canton of Grisons
Fig. 2 - Dead wood: important habitat in forest reserves
Pictures: P. Brang (WSL)

Swiss forests have been utilized intensively for centuries. The remaining virgin forests (fig. 1) are negligibly small. Within the framework of its strategy “Forest biodiversity”, the Swiss federal government supports the establishment of natural forest reserves since 1991. These areas should again develop virgin forest like structures in future decades. At the end of the year 2011, approx. 29’087 ha of Swiss forests (= 2.5% of the forest area) have been protected as natural forest reserves; in addition there are the so called complex forest reserves which combine unmanaged forests with forests managed for conservation purposes.

How do the forests develop in these reserves? Are there in fact differences to managed forests? What are the differences? The federal government is looking for answers to these questions to evaluate its reserve policy. Research is also interested in natural forest reserves. They are unique outdoor laboratories in which for example questions concerning forest dynamics and biodiversity can be studied.

Long-term research revived

The ETH has been doing research on forest dynamics in Swiss natural forest reserves since 1948 (fig. 2) and the WSL has also been doing so in the Swiss National Park for 80 years. Recently research was expanded to the Sihlwald and to the Ukrainian Carpathians. In 2006, the Chair of Forest Ecology of the ETH Zürich, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL and the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN have bundled their common interests in a long-term research project.


On the one hand the available forest development data from the 39 ETH natural forest reserves are analyzed and the results made known in Switzerland and worldwide. On the other hand a standardized and practicable method for monitoring Swiss natural forest reserves has been developed. This method includes continuous monitoring in parts of the ETH reserves. The value of the long-term data series of these ETH reserves increases with each new inventory. Additionally, new reserves are being included in the monitoring program to complement it appropriately.

Book "Forest reserves. 50 years of natural forest succession in Switzerland" published (in German)

The book shows how forest dynamics have evolved in Swiss forest reserves since 1960, in what respect near-natural forests differ from managed forests and to what degree they become virgin forests again. The book is based on 50 years research in Swiss forest reserves and makes the findings for the first time available to readers interested in forests and conservation. It also portrays 14 natural forest reserves.

Short description on the website of the Haupt Publisher (in German)

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