BFW - Index
Department of Forest Ecology
Head: Dr. Ernst Leitgeb German

What's New
EU funded Projekt SUSTMAN: Symposium
Biodiversity of soil organisms in Natural Forests
Borders of the Growth Regions for Download
Management advice and thematic Maps
Growth regions
Forest soil inventory
Instructions for forest site mapping in Austria
Fertilization of christmas tree farms
Forest management
Long-term monitoring
Site research
Carbon and nitrogen cycles
Greenhouse gases
EU-funded: List
Publications 1997-2002
List of publications
Online list of publications
Online information
Soil analyses
The bulk of information is provided in German


Forest ecology studies the site-related factors of forest ecosystems, which includes mainly soil science, geomorphology, climate and forest vegetation, and their influence on the development and growth of forests. Studies of site-related problems have a long tradition at the Federal Forest Research Centre.

At present, forest ecology research focuses on the following items:

  • ecological characterization of forest sites and forest communities;
  • survey of the production, benefit and risk potentials of natural forests and their spatial presentation;
  • balancing the site amplitude for an ecologically sustainable management;
  • rehabilitation of forest ecosystems; and
  • the dynamics of forest ecosystems as a response to ever-changing environmental conditions.

The importance of environmentally relevant forest management effects continues to increase. Forest ecology therefore provides basics of forest management and also informs about non-forestry concerns such as landuse planning or environmental conservation.



Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8, A-1130 Wien

Phone: +43-1-878 38 / 1202

Fax: +43-1-878 38 / 1250


Research activities

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Ecological guidelines for sustainable forest management

Many forest ecosystems have been so heavily modified by unbalanced management that the sustainability of the respective sites is no longer maintained. As part of a forest management which is oriented towards nature and, therefore, well-adapted to sites, the conversion of forest communities such as pure spruce stands meets with great interest. Local site conditions form the basic elements of silvicultural regeneration concepts.

Activities focus on the ecological classification of natural forests, on the survey of the ecological gradients which develop in the course of the transition towards unnatural forest communities, and on the conversion to stable, close-to-nature forest ecosystems. Forest meteorological, forest soil and vegetational studies are required to achieve these goals. Detailed knowledge of the ecological processes in close-to-nature and unnatural forest communities, for instance in nutrient cycling, forest meteorology and forest hydrology, about the amount of light available/demanded, regeneration and vegetation ecology (e.g. the role of the old-growth stand in the reduction of stand-specific climatic extremes, study of seedbeds, competition, etc.) will provide valuable approaches towards ecological regeneration, for instance by using stand conversion
Vegetation taxonomy of oak dominated forest communities in South Eastern Styria,
Site Survey and site classification in Eastern Styria,
Water relation investigations at problematic sites in the hill lands of South Eastern Styria
Introduction of broadleaf species for sustainable forest management (EU funded Projekt SUSTMAN))

Long-term monitoring

In conjunction with „new-type forest damage“, which was in the centre of public interest during the eighties, the „International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests in the ECE Region“ (ICP Forests) was established. The Institute of Forest Ecology is responsible for those parts of the project that are related to soil (incl. soil chemistry and soil water), forest vegetation, and meteorological issues. Two different methods are being applied to determine the impact of air pollution on forest ecosystems:

Studies on a large number of sample plots, using simple routine analyses (regional representativity).

„Screening – Level I“ (Projekt G7)

Intensive investigations on a small number of selected objects. A broad range of analyses is used to investigate the interactions of soil, nutrient status of trees, and stand vitality (no regional representativity).

„Monitoring – Level II“ ( Projekt: National Focal Centre-Level II )

Long-term monitoring of the vegetation offers the possibility of evaluating to what extent changes in soils have an impact on the vegetation. Soil vegetation is used as a bioindicator in passive monitoring. It can be used both as an indicator of the nutrient, acid and water balance of the soil and as an indicator of the light and heat supply of stands.

An important tool in practical soil care and a precondition of soil conservation measures is permanent soil monitoring. The latter provides information both on current soil conditions and on the soil condition changes that occur over definite periods and thus is the basis for the initiation of appropriate measures in problem areas.

(Projekt: Forest Soil Inventory - first repetition)

In view of the above-described questions it is necessary to update the methods used in soil analysis so as to ensure comparability of the analyses.

ENFORS: European Network for long-term Forest Ecosystem and Landsape Research initiated in December 2000. ENFORS is hosted by COST, an intergovernmental organisation of 32 European nations for co-operation in science and technology connected to EU.

Standorstkarte (klein)

Site map

Site research

The tasks of forest site research comprise the surveying of the characteristic site parameters, the classification of forest sites in site classes according to quality and budget dynamics, and the spatial structuring of those sites. The knowledge of the site potential (in the form of forest site mapping) is therefore the fundamental planning element of forest management. Site research is also an essential requirement for the concerns of nature conservation and environmental protection (protection of landscape, soil, ecotopes, and biodiversity) and thus provides the basis of numerous forest political decisions and decision-making processes.

Special attention is given to close cooperation with silviculture; in a way, site research provides the site amplitude of silvicultural activities like tree species selection, stand conversion, utilization, etc. Within these limits, a sustainable yield forest management is guaranteed.

The rapid advances in the EDP sector have created the basis of a practicable form of spatial data processing. The use of geographic information systems (GIS) is encouraged and further developed in this context
Information-, training- und service-center for forest site mapping,
The potential forest communities as basis for sustainable forest development - investigated at the Klagenfurt basin and the Southern border of the Alps)

See also: Instructions for forest site mapping in Austria


Carbon and nitrogen cycles

A number of sample plots have been installed for regular measurements regarding the carbon and nitrogen cycles. These investigations comprise microbial conversion rates like mineralisation, nitrification, soil enzymes, carbon and nitrogen content of the microbial biomass. Nitrogen and carbon leaching are determined in connection with soil physical parameters like soil water or soil temperature with the objective of providing information about the differences in the nutrient balance of various forest sites. The seasonal dynamics of microbial processes and their control are studied. From a practical point of view, these investigations are of importance with respect to the assessment of the nitrogen saturation of various forest sites, the protection of drinking water, and the carbon storage capacity of forests
(Projects: Modelling of the nitrogen cycle,
Nitrogen oxide emissions from forests:EU-projekt NOFRETETE
Quantifying carbon stocks and stock changes in European forests: EU funded project CARBOINVENT
Database of nutrient fluxes,
National Focal Centre-Level II )

Activities focus particularly on the study of natural forests which can provide valuable information with respect to close-to-nature forest management
(Projekts: Close to nature forest communities - criterias in respect to soil-ecology,
Microbial Nutrient Turnover in Soils of Natural Forest Communities,
Development of stand and regeneration in selected forestal natural reserves).


Greenhouse gases

Methane (CH4), laughing gas (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) can escape from forest soils into the atmosphere where they add to the greenhouse effect and to the depletion of stratospheric ozone. However, there are also indications that nutrient-poor forests function as a sink for atmospheric methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and laughing gas (N2O). One of the most significant problems treated in connection with this Project ( 2002-49 ) is the role of the forest soil as a source or sink of trace gases.



The symbiosis of fungus („mycor“) and root („rhiza“) plays an important part in the nutrition and prospering of our forest trees. Mycorrhizae and the microorganisms associated with them improve the uptake and storage of nutrients and water and protect the fine roots of our forest trees both mechanically and bacterially against the attacks of pathogenic fungi. The limits between a symbiosis and a parasitic or pathogenic association are, however, indistinct and may also depend on the site. On extreme sites, mycorrhizal symbiosis can be critical for the survival of our forest trees (Details).

Characterization of ectomycorrhizae and mycorrhiza fungi at high elevation and at special sites,
Production of mycorrhiza inoculum  




The large number of climate, soil and vegetation data from the projects are collected in a database system so that they are available for future investigations and cross-sectorial evaluations. The database system also serves to improve the international data exchange of systematic survey and monitoring networks, in particular within the EU.

At present, the following database systems are available at the Institute of Forest Ecology:

  • Forest Vegetation Information System 2002-65; in charge: Dipl.-Ing. Franz Starlinger
  • Information System on Site, Soil Science and Soil Chemistry 2002-61; in charge: Dr. Franz Mutsch
  • Climatological Information System; in charge: Mag. Karl Gartner


University of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources (BOKU), Vienna

Dr. Robert Jandl:

Introduction to siol water chemistry

University lecture (2 hrs) and practical course (1 hr) at the Vienna University of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources, Institute of Soil Science, winter term.

The basics of aqueous chemistry are presented (chemical equilibrium, solving problems of equilibrium using the tableau technique and a graphical method (Bjerrum-Plot), and the combination of chemical equations).

Other topics of the lecture include

  • acids and bases in soils (calculation of the alkalinity from chemical soil parameters; the critical role of alkalinity in the assessment of the chemical quality of soil water; grantitration);
  • buffering processes in soils (buffer areas according to Ulrich, buffering capacity, buffering rate, difference between steady-state and chemical equilibrium);
  • the dissolution of the solid phase (solubility of oxides, decomposition of carbonates, co-existance of solid matters); and
  • the formation of complexes (inorganic and organic complexes in the soil water; importance of these complexes for the mobility of trace metals).

In the practical courses, the theoretical knowledge is to be applied. Each participant will have to prepare and present a selected topic from an up-to-date English-language publication.

University of Vienna

Dr. Ernst Leitgeb

Soil science for ecologists.

University lecture (2 hrs) at the University of Vienna, Institute of Plant Physiology, coordinated studies „Ecology“, winter term.

After a brief repetition of the geological fundamentals which are of relevant for soil science, the most important parts of the soil (humus, sec. clay minerals) are discussed. The lecture focuses on those soil characteristics that are plant-physiologically relevant (nutrient storage, nutrient uptake, soil acidity, water budget, heat and air budgets) and on the processes of soil formation that are most significant in our climatic zone. A brief survey of the soil types in Austria and their nutrient characteristics, and selected chapters from the field of applied soil science (structural amelioration, hydro-amelioration) will be presented.

Lecture materials - download
Vorlesungsblätter (the same document as .pdf and .zip-File): Download: Vorlesung Bodenkunde (.pdf) Download:Vorlesung Bodenkunde (.zip)

Humus forms: Download: Humusformen (.pdf)

Dr. Sophie Zechmeister-Boltenstern:

Microbiology for ecologists: Nitrogen and carbon cycles in soils

Practical course (3 hrs) at the University of Vienna, Institute of Plant Physiology, summer term, required elective for the study of „Ecology“, together with Dr. Andreas Baumgarten, HBLVA for Horticulture in Vienna, Schönbrunn.

The practical course will be organized as a block and held at the Federal Forest Research Centre (Forstliche Bundesversuchsanstalt) and at the HBLVA for Horticulture (HBLVA für Gartenbau).

The students will be taught the most important methods used in the field of microbial ecology of terrestrial systems. After the course, the students should be able to assess the applicability of such methods for environment-related questions and to solve problems by themselves, using the methods they have been taught. The course will focuse on microbial nitrogen and carbon transformations as they are of particular importance to plant nutrition. Special attention will be paid to the application of microbiological and biochemical methods to forest research and horticulture.

The following methods will be treated in the practical course:

Selecting and establishing sample plots in the field; soil sampling; lysimeter sampling; TDR measurement of soil moisture; measuring the biogenic production of greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide and laughing gas). Soil-chemical methods (pH value, determination of nitrates and ammonium) and soil physical methods (water content) will be introduced to complete soil microbiological methods. From the nitrogen cycle, the production of CO2 and methane as well as the microbial biomass and the extractable glucose equivalents will be measured. An important point of the course will be to instruct the students in the statistical evaluation and interpretation of the compiled soil-microbiological data.

Ecology of Soil Nutrient Cycling

Lecture: (2 hours/week, 1 term); excursions (2 hours/week, 1 term)
The microbially mediated fluxes of nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus and sulfur and their regulation by external processes are described. Mechanisms how plants cope with surplus or insufficient nutrients are described. The lecture deals with topics from agriculture, forestry and environment protection.

Cooperations and participation



Kooperation within the framework of EU funded projects

(Multisource inventory methods for quantifying carbon stocks and stock changes in European forests)

(Nitrogen oxides emissions from European forest ecosystems)
(Relation­ships between recent changes of growth and nutrition of Norway Spruce, Scots Pine and European Forest in Europe)
(Introduction of broadleaf species for sustainable forest management)

2004-08-23 | Contact: Ernst Leitgeb Index BFW | Search