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Back to wilderness – long-term vegetation monitoring in the Swiss National Park

 

The Swiss National Park was founded to allow an intensively utilized landscape to convert to wilderness and to study this process. Monitoring projects were therefore initiated soon after the park foundation in 1914 and consistently continue until today. 

 

The Swiss National Park is a unique area to study long-term vegetation processes in the absence of human disturbances. Since its foundation, all human activities, such as fishing, hunting, gathering, or managing are prohibited and visitor access is restricted to walking trails in designated areas. Beside conservation goals, the founders mandated scientists to study the development and recovery of the intensively utilized landscape into a wilderness area. For this purpose, vegetation surveys on permanent plots started as early as 1917 and monitoring was continued consistently until today. Almost 200 permanent plots are currently under study.

The goals of the study are to i) functionally explain long-term vegetation processes (e.g., succession) and ii) link such changes to ecosystem stability (e.g., variability in productivity, species turnover) and ecosystem biodiversity. The project provides baseline data for numerous other research projects dealing with vegetation patterns and processes such as habitat use of ungulates, interactions between herbivores and vegetation, decomposition of organic material, invertebrate diversity, or forest succession.