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Natural Forest Reserves in Austria

Austrian Contribution to COST Action E4
Forest Reserves Research Network

G. Frank and G. Koch

Accepted: 1999; Data: 1997


Austria can look back on a long tradition as regards the establishment and maintenance of natural forest reserves. Currently, a national reserves network is being established and research priorities are being re-formulated. The network now comprises 159 natural forest reserves and natural forest stands with a forest area of 6,072 ha. The established reserves includes 80 out of the 125 natural forest communities of the country. The objective of the Natural Forest Reserves Programme is to provide at least one natural forest reserve for each and every potential natural forest community in the forest ecoregions. The present report describes the relevant legal situation in Austria, the specific role natural forest reserves play in the Alpine area, and the „Natural Forest Reserves“ project, as well as some relevant research results.


1. Introduction
2. General information about Austrian forests
3. Historical background of natural forest reserves in Austria
4. Classification and legal status of protection areas
5. State-of-science and establishment of natural forest reserves in Austria
6. References

1 Introduction

In Austria, the establishment and maintenance of natural forest reserves has been practiced for several decades. The process was mainly urged by a few outstanding forest scientists, forest-tenants, and forest practitioners, though not in the form of a national programme.

We are presently working to implement the Austrian Natural Forest Reserves Programme initiated in 1995. This Programme aims at systematically establishing a representative network of natural forest reserves and can be regarded a direct outcome of the Helsinki Resolution H2, .General Guidelines for the Conservation of the Biodiversity of the European Forests.. In this context, the Natural Forest Reserves project essentially contributes to the implementation of the overall strategy of maintaining and improving forest biodiversity, which is considered a basic requirement of forest sustainability and effective forest functions.

At the end of 1997, Austria has 159 natural forest reserves, covering a forest area of 6,072 ha or 0.15 % of the country.s total forest area (see Figure 5). Natural forest areas are heavily increasing both in numbers and size; the relevant observations are primarily oriented to the occurrence of potential natural forest communities. Because Austria is located at a cross-point of alpine, sub-continental and sub-Atlantic climatic influences, as many as 125 forest communities are represented there. All typical forest communities occurring in the 22 defined forest ecoregions (KILIAN et al. 1994) are to be represented by at least one reserve per forest ecoregion and forest community.

Please note that the figures given in this report refer to present observations and may change within a very short time.

2 General information about Austrian forests

Data from the Austrian Forest Inventory

Austria's national territory:  8,385.000 ha   Forest area at present: :      3,924.000 ha
Percentage share of forest area in total area:     46,8 %     Population:    8,046.500
Population density:   96/km2                                                   Forest area per inhabitant:    0,49 ha


Silvicultural management methods:


Types of ownership:


Production forests 


Private forests (<200 ha) 


Protection forests with commercial yield  


Industrial forests 


Protection forests without commercial yield  


ÖBF-AG (State-owned forests)


Forested area without commercial yield


Coppice stands  


Table 1: Percentages of silvicultural management methods and types of ownership in Austrian forests.


Figure 1: Percentage shares of silvicultural management methods in Austrian forests. ownership

Figure 2: Percentage shares of types of ownership in Austrian forests.

According to the most recent evaluation of the Forest Inventory, 3.92 mio. ha of Austria.s national territory are covered by forests (46.8 %). Since the beginnings of the Austrian Forest Inventory in 1961 Austria.s forest area has continuously increased. In general, broadleaved forests and mixed forests with a high percentage of broadleaved trees have increased, whereas pure coniferous stands have decreased (RUSS 1997).

Protection forests

Approximately 755,000 ha (19.3 %) of the Austrian forests are classified protection forests. In contrast to other countries, however, the Austrian forest legislation does not define protection forests as classified protection areas for reasons of nature conservation. Rather, they identify forests which are to be preserved through limited forest utilisation and specific silvicultural measures. The purpose of protecting such forests is to maintain their beneficial effects for man, for instance protective and social, recreational, and general economic functions.

According to the definition of the Forest Act protection forests include all forests stocking on soils which, unless covered by forests, would be eroded by wind, water and weathering, and where reafforestation would be possible only under very difficult conditions. On extreme sites, protection forests thus protect themselves in order to be sustainable. They protect their sites and the soils on which they stock.

Since the beginnings of the Austrian Forest Inventory in 1961 protection forests have been classified to include .protection forests with commercial yield. and .protection forests without commercial yield.. Economic considerations were decisive for this classification: In protection forests with commercial yield (7.4 % of the entire forest area) economic measures are possible provided that the protective function is accounted for, whereas protection forests without commercial yield (11.9 % of the entire forested area) cannot, or only to a negligible extent, be utilized. The latter include forests at locations which are almost or completely inaccessible and stands on poor sites with very low yields. This means that human intervention is next to impossible and that these forests are very much in harmony with nature (SCHADAUER et al. 1997).

Because of their specific locations, such forests (approx. one fifth of the forest area) certainly have many properties which are identical to those of forest protection areas. For this reason it is frequently proposed to use them to replace natural forest reserves. However, a critical analysis of the approach indicates some difficulties:

Protection forests without commercial yield are mainly located at the subalpine altitudinal forest level; they represented few native forest communities and few tree species only. According to the most recent results of the Austrian Forest Inventory 75 % of the protection forests without commercial yield are made up by only 4 coniferous tree species.

A high percentage (26 %) of protection forests without commercial yield are made up of shrub ecosystems, such as Pinus mugo. Such forests are of minor importance to Austrian forests and do not provide new knowledge about high-forest management.

At present, natural forest reserves are overrepresented at the montane and subalpine altitudinal levels, and particularly in protection forests. This is true both for numbers and sizes. In contrast, there is a lack of forest communities outside those areas.

Hemeroby of Austrian forest ecosystems Degree of modification due to human intervention

Like in other European countries which are rich in forests the degree of naturalness of forests is essential in forestry, in environmental protection and most different research disciplines, and in natural forest research. Further to the completion of the research project .Man and the Biosphere. carried out at the University of Vienna, we are now for the first time in a position to provide well-founded scientific answers to the delicate question .to which extent forests are in harmony with nature. (GRABHERR et al. 1995).

What was new with this project was that hemeroby (the extent of modification through human intervention) was assessed using standardized evaluation processes. A stratified random procedure was used to evaluate Austria.s entire forest area (REITER & KIRCHMEIR 1997). To survey the degree of naturalness of forests, 4,892 field plots of the Austrian Forest Monitoring System were used to determine deviations of the present forest situation from potential natural forest communities. To do so, a list of clearly measurable and reconstructible criteria was established and surveyed according to a clearly defined code.

Degrees of naturalness (degrees of hemeroby) are determined by combining 11 separate criteria, among them .naturalness of tree species composition., .naturalness of ground flora., .intensity of utilization., and .amount and quality of dead wood.. In the course of the evaluation process, the surveyed values (solid cubic meters of dead wood, stratification, etc.) were transformed into a comparable ordinal scale of 1 (polyhemerobic, artificial) to 9 (ahemerobic; without impact . seminatural/utilised). Transformation of the surveyed values into relative values allowed to combine always two of the criteria for one hemeroby value (KOCH & KIRCHMEIR 1997). This method of evaluation makes the process reconstructible and transparent. For practical use, the 10 stages were combined to form 5 degrees of naturalness (GRABHERR et al. 1997).

Results show that 3 % of Austria.s forest-covered area are without impact and 22 % seminatural. Forests classified as natural or seminatural are mainly stocking in the subalpine, inner parts of the Alps and are characterized by a dominance of conferous trees. By far the highest percentage of Austrian forests, 41 %, is moderately altered. The study also indicates in which parts of the country anthropogenic influence caused more prominent changes and where there are practically no natural or seminatural stands. The latter include mainly the outer zones of the Alps, where potential natural forest communities are predominantly made up of mixed beech and oak forests. 27 % of the Austrian forests are altered and 7% are artificial (KOCH et al. 1997). It will be necessary to launch special-purpose programmes for these areas in order to improve the condition of forests there. With only few modifications, the developed method could be applied also in other countries.

3 Historical background of natural forest reserves in Austria

Impacts of historical forms of utilisation

Only few of Austria's natural forest reserves are true remnants of virgin forests and even those are relatively small and in some cases comprise but a few hectares. In the past, Austrian forests were much more intensively exploited by man than they are today. Wood was not only an important construction material, but also the main source of energy. Entire valleys were radically clearcut to cover the energy demand of the iron and steel industry and of the saltworks and the firewood demand of the flourishing towns. As a result of permanent pasturing and litter use over hundreds of years, the original forests were in many areas transformed into open, park-like landscapes. Many forest ecosystems have not recovered from that intensive agricultural exploitation.

For the above reasons, it is easily understandable that parts of virgin forests without anthropogenic impacts have survived only in areas which are either absolutely inaccessible or not well suited for agricultural use because of their difficult terrain and soil conditions. This historical landuse development explains why reserves were formerly established mainly at the montane and subalpine altitudinal levels, and particularly in the Limestone Alps. It is one of our objectives today to correct this unfavourable distribution.


As early as in the past century forest-tenants were responsible for the protection of the remaining virgin forests, which were located mainly in the Northern and Southern Limestone Alps. Motives such as the maintenance of nature for future generations were underlined.

Approximately since 1965 new activities have been undertaken with a view to reserves and scientific documentation. This stage of development is closely related with the two forest scientists Hannes Mayer and Kurt Zukrigl. Even at this early stage it was tried to build up network of natural forest reserves which eventually would represent all important forest communities in proportion to their significance. A major part of the existing reserves were established due to the efforts of these two scientists and is documented in monographs (MAYER et al. 1987, ZUKRIGL et al. 1990).

Examples of outstanding initiatives included the designation of mostly small areas (termed natural forest stands) through private-law contracts of the Tiroler Forstverein. with private or communal forest-tenants and the establishment of natural forest reserves in parts of the Vienna Forests located close to the city by the Forest Office of Vienna.

On the initiative of Hannes Mayer and Kurt Zukringl, a contractual agreement was settled in 1986 between the University of Agriculture and Forestry and the Austrian Federal Forests (ÖBF) to make the reserves located on ÖBF properties available for research. According to recent information the ÖBF.s share in the total area of natural forest reserves was approximately 15%, which corresponds to its share in the total forest area.

This brief summary of the historical development clearly indicates that private forest-tenants have from the very beginning played a major role in the establishment of natural forest reserves in Austria and that the task of establishing forest reserves was not exclusively left to state forests. By the end of 1994, Austria had as many as 86 natural forest reserves with a total area of 3,224 ha (FRANK 1995).

Consequences of the Helsinki Resolution H2

Further to the agreements made at the Ministerial Conference for the Protection of Forests in Europe, a working group was established in 1994 to develop a framework concept for the establishment of an Austria-wide network of natural forest reserves. From the very beginning, people representing the interests of forest-tenants, forest experts working in administration, forest scientists, and forest practitioners were included in the process which finally lead up to an Austrian Programme for Natural Forest Reserves..

The Federal Forest Research Centre (FBVA) has been entrusted with the technical implementation of the Programme. Administrative and financial tasks are the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

At present, systematic extension of the network has top priority. We are therefore concentrating our capacities on checking the suitability of potential new areas and on documenting the original conditions of new reserves as exactly as possible. For lack of staff, scientific investigation of existing reserves must be limited to immediately necessary periodic surveys of the field plots, some of which have existed for more than 30 years.

4 Classification and legal status of protection areas

Legal background

The Austrian Federal Constitution does not charge one uniform authority with the affairs of environmental protection. Environmental law still has a somehow cross-sectional character (WELAN & KIND 1995).

Legal authority regarding the legislation and execution of provisions of nature and landscape protection usually lies with the nine Federal Provinces. So Austria does not have one federal law on the protection or conservation of nature, but nine provincial laws, which means that, from a legal point of view, the Federal Government is thus not in charge of the protection of nature. Exceptions from this rule are international agreements, such as the Convention on the Alps., the Ramsar Convention. or the Convention of Bern., and relevant programmes of the European Commission. In contrast, forestry is entirely regulated in federal laws.

Regarding the establishment of natural forest reserves it should be pointed out that, contrary to other European countries, the term natural forest reserves. is not laid down in the Austrian Forest Act. With the exception of Salzburg, the Provincial Nature Conservation Acts do not provide explicit definitions of the term, either.

This is why in former times protected areas which corresponded to our present natural forest reserves were established in the form of nature reserves or protected landscapes (see below) by decree and by applying the legal instruments of nature conservation which were available at that time (ZUKRIGL 1990). Some of the reserves located on ÖBF properties were guaranteed by administrative agreements with scientific institutions. However, the major part of the old reserves were based on informal promises of the owners or on simple agreements under civil law.

It was only after the signing of the Resolutions of the Ministerial Conference for the Protection of Forests in Europe, in particular of Resolution H2, General Guidelines for the Conservation of the Biodiversity of European Forests in 1993 in Helsinki, that an Austrian Programme for the Establishment of Natural Forest Reserves was initiated. This Programme laid the foundations for a systematic extension of an Austria-wide and representative natural forest reserves network. Under this Programme, new reserves are principally not established by decree, but on the basis of private-law contracts between the Republic of Austria and forest-tenants.

Protection categories according the nature conservation laws of the Federal Provinces

Nature reserve

Areas which ensure the maintenance and conservation of natural and sustainable ecosystems or ecosystem complexes with a high abundance of species and great structural diversity, which offer habitats and retreatment areas for rare animal and plant species, or which for another reason are of high scientific importance, are suited as nature reserves. According to the above criteria, e.g. primary forests or relict forests are worth conservation (cf. DRUML 1992). Apart from specific conservation areas in national parks, nature reserves are in all Federal Provinces the strictest form of area protection (TIEFENBACH 1993). However, even for these, five provincial laws contain exceptions and allow agricultural and silvicultural use of these areas.

When the first nature reserves were established as a result of the first European Nature Conservation Year in 1970 mainly biotopes without forests, such as dry meadows, wetlands or alpine biotopes were considered.

This is why among the 328 nature reserves with a total area of 281,814 ha (3.3 % of the national territory; TIEFENBACH 1993) only 26 (4,698 ha or 0.06 % of the national territory) are pure forest biotopes. However, the percentage of forests in the total area of nature reserves might be much higher because numerous conservation areas which are primarily oriented to other types of biotopes also include small portions of forest. Regrettably, no exact data on the percentage share of forests in the total area of nature reserves are currently available for lack of all-Austrian surveys.

Landscape conservation area

Areas which stand out for their beauty or which are of special importance regarding the recreation of the local population or tourism (DRUML 1992).

Landscape conservation areas offer much less protection than nature reserves do. In such areas, measures causing long-term impacts on the landscape are subject to approval. In landscape conservation areas, the effective protection of species or symbioses is not necessarily provided because further agricultural or silvicultural utilization is permitted and management measures are even desired.

Landscape conservation areas are predominantly oriented to the maintenance of traditional lands cultivated by man and, therefore, are not suited to ensure natural forest reserves.

Protected part of the landscape; Protected green

Small parts of landscapes which are characteristic or particularly stimulating for landscapes, villages or towns, or which are of special importance to ecology, local climate, flora and fauna (DRUML 1992).

Except for one Federal Province, this category is provided for in all relevant provincial laws. It includes parts of landscapes (frequently located in landscape conservation areas) which are to be preserved in order to protect particular symbioses or individual parts of landscapes. Such areas offer similar protection as nature reserves, however at a smaller scale; because of their small size, parts of the landscape under this category are at most suited for protecting natural forest stands.

Wildlife parks

Areas or parts of areas which are already used as nature reserves or landscape conservation areas. Because the purpose of wildlife parks is human recreation in managed landscapes rather than the conservation of nature, and because they must be open to the public, the objectives of this category do not correspond to those of natural forest reserves (cf. WOLKINGER 1996).

National parks

The regulations applicable to national parks are laid down in separate provincial laws. National parks are conservation areas with characteristic landscapes, animal or plant species which are of outstanding significance for Austria (cf. WOLKINGER 1996, DRUML 1992, TIEFENBACH 1993). They serve science and recreation and are thus in most cases open to the public. Provincial laws distinguish between inner and outer zones of national parks. In inner zones, any form of utilization is prohibited, whereas in outer zones agricultural and silvicultural uses are in most cases possible without problems.

So far, 5 national parks have been established in Austria. Except for the national parks Limestone Alps. and Wetlands of the Danube., these forest areas are located in outer zones and thus do not enjoy particular protection. For this reason only a small portion of the forests in such areas are protected against interventions and can develop according to the critera applying to natural forest reserves. Presently, the 5 national parks contain about 40,800 ha of forests.

Protection ex lege

More recent provincial laws on nature conservation are providing for opportunities of ex lege protection of ecologically sensitive habitats and can prohibit any intervention in such habitats. This applies mainly to the protection of lakes and rivers, banks, wetlands, and alpine areas. However, legal protection of natural forest reserves through this category is hardly possible because, if at all, it would include but individual swamp forests or riparian gallery forests.

Gene conservation forests

Since 1986 the Federal Forest Research Centre has been working on a project aiming at the conservation of the genetic diversity of forest trees (MÜLLER 1994, LITSCHAUER 1994). Apart from the establishment of seed banks and seed orchards, one of the pillars of the project is selective identification of gene reserves and corresponding management of such areas by forest owners.

Gene reserves and gene conservation forests can, but need not be natural forest reserves. Such stands are aimed at preserving the genetic diversity of forest trees and the adaptive capacity of tree populations. Gene reserves also serve to maintain rare but not very competitive tree species, which is not a priority objective of natural forest reserves. In contrast, natural forest reserves are oriented to maintain the whole biodiversity of forest ecosystems.

To reach the objectives of gene reserves, active measures (support of natural regeneration, protection of individual trees, regulation of competition, etc.) are permitted and sometimes even required, while in natural forest reserves any interventions and measures (except for hunting) are prohibited from the time of their establishment. This is the only way to provide for a natural development without disturbance which can then be studied. Natural forest reserves will therefore only in exceptional cases be identical with gene conservation forests. A useful combination of natural forest reserves and gene conservation forests is to use the close-to-nature managed buffer zones additionally as gene conservation forests.

In Austria, about 8,500 ha of forests are designed as gene conservation forests. Gene conservation forests therefore provide important close-to-nature control plots.

5 State-of-science and establishment of natural forest reserves in Austria

Because the dynamics of these forest ecosystems is not superimposed by human impacts natural forest reserves are particularly suited as long-term forest-ecological research. At the beginnings of natural forest research, mainly vegetational and silvicultural aspects were investigated. Today, investigations of biodiversity, of population-genetic connections, stress sensitivity or the adaptive capacity of forest ecosystems to potential climate changes are increasingly gaining importance. Applied research specifically aims at developing an ecologically oriented, close-to-nature form of forest management. Natural forest reserves are examples of the natural forest communities and can serve as reference areas for biotope assessments and ecological monitorings.

The situation we started with in Austria in 1994 was still little satisfactory. Most natural forest reserves and/or natural forest stands were small (< 5 ha) and represented but a small sector of the forest development. Moreover, reserves were not evenly distributed among forest communities, altitudinal levels and forest ecoregions. Large-scale zonal forest communities were predominantly represented by subalpine and montane coniferous mixed forests. Above all, reserves in beech forests and oak-hornbeam mixed forests were missing. In addition, of Austria.s 125 forest communities only few special communities (azonal forests and extrazonal forests) were included (cf. ZUKRIGL 1990, FRANK 1995).

Framework concept for an all-Austrian network of natural forest reserves

The signing of the Helsinki Resolutions was an important occasion to elaborate the framework concept for the establishment of an all-Austrian network of natural forest reserves. The concept is being implemented at the Federal Forest Research Centre, Vienna, in the context of the Natural Forest Reserves' project.

The first purpose of natural forest reserves is the natural development of forests as a result of immediate stopping of any direct human influence, even if current stand development does not yet correspond to the development of natural forests. The most important precondition of a natural forest reserve is the declaration of intention by the owner, or any other persons authorized to use the respective forest, that no interventions will be made in the future and that the forest area will be part of the reserve network.

Categories of natural forest reserves

In accordance with the objectives of natural forest reserves and considering the existing reserves and research results, a distinction is made between three different categories of natural forest reserves.

Standard reserves:

Standard reserves must be sufficiently large to sustainably ensure the complete developmental cycle (minimum structural area). A basic monitoring programme, comprising vegetation mapping and a network of permanent sample plots, is necessary for long-term monitoring and documentation of the forest development.

Point-of-main-effort reserves:

Thanks to special conditions or specific features (size, degree of naturalness, etc.) such reserves are particularly well-suited for special-purpose research programmes. The category includes also reserves which are suited for information equipment and for measures to re-direct the flow of visitors while simultaneously relieving other reserves.

Natural forest stands:

Natural forest stands represent a specific form of natural forest reserves. They are too small to ensure the sustainable and balanced development of all formation phases and mainly serve as stand specimen of natural forest communities; moreover, they play an important part in the integration of habitats.

Natural forest stands must be large enough to allow a community-specific local forest climate. Depending on the potential natural forest community, this size is between 0.5 and 1 ha.

The Natural Forest Reserves' project at the Federal Forest Research Centre


The first and foremost goal of natural forest reserves is to maintain the biological diversity which is characteristic of the respective forest communities. The aim is not to preserve particular forest conditions, but to allow the uninterrupted dynamics of any processes (including natural disturbances and catastrophes).

In 1995, the planning and establishment of a network of natural forest reserves was laid down in a keynote paper together with experts of the Forest Authorities, representatives of the administration, forest-tenants, and the Federal Forest Research Centre. Experiences from other countries were taken into account and existing international programmes were integrated into the concept.

The Natural Forest Reserve. project includes the elaboration of recommendations for the selection and care of new reserves, the establishment of new reserves and the organization and outlining of a new research programme. Special emphasis is on the representative distribution of reserves over the forest communities occurring in Austria. At the moment, an information system on the reserve network is being established. A network of standardized observation plots serves long-term documentation of the natural development and of man-made stresses.

Apart from the degree of naturalness, representativity, which varies with the potential natural forest communities of the individual ecoregions, is an important criterion for the selection of natural forest reserves.

Criteria for the selection of natural forest reserves

With a view to a standardized and reconstructible judgment regarding the suitability of forest areas as natural forest reserves, a binding list of criteria was established according to which forest areas should be examined and suitable forest areas should be selected.

The essential criteria include:

>Naturalness of the vegetation  
> Tree species composition of the existing vegetation is to correspond with that of the potential natural vegetation.  

Structure, age, texture of stand  
> >
Sustainable existance of all developmental phases of the stand within one reserve. 

Minimum size 
> >
The minimum size of a natural forest reserve (with the exception of natural forest stands) is determined by the minimum structural area, i.e. the area which is necessary that every forest community is sustainably represented. The minimum structural area varies with forest communities and, according to current results from research, is between 10 and 50 ha.  

Topographic unit 
> >
Consistency of orogoraphic units is to be accounted for. 

Rareness and endangered stands
> >
All rare forest communities should be registered; for rare and/or endangered forest communities, the criterion of minimum area may count less

Buffer zones 
> >
Buffer zones can minimize outside influences on the reserves, which is why a sufficient number of such buffer zones should be maintained or established. In such reserve zones, close-to-nature forest management is permitted. Buffer zones should have a width of 1 to 3 times the height of a tree. 

Disturbance through roads, trails, streets
> >
Disturbances may not produce negative influences on the inner climate of forest communities or on the development of forests.

Influence due to game 
> >
The numbers of game must allow secured regeneration; the latter must include the tree and bush species of the potential natural forest community. 

Reasons for non-selection and exclusion

Reasons for non-selection exist already when areas are examined for their suitability as natural forest reserves, whereas reasons for exclusion refer to existing reserves. They include the following conditions:

Schedule for establishing reserves

The establishment of natural forest reserves follows a standardized procedure and includes the following steps:

  1. Registration of forest areas by forest-tenants and forest staff.
  2. Preliminary examination of the proposed areas by representatives of the Federal Forest Research Centre and experts of the Provincial Forest Authorities.
  3. Selection of suitable reserves and marking of the areas.
  4. Basic survey by specifically trained survey teams on a grid of permanent sample plots for the assessment of compensations and for future observations. The most important features of such surveys are: vegetation surveys according to BRAUN-BLANQUET 1964, determination and mapping of the potential natural forest communities, stand parameters, Bitterlich sampling, site exploration, stand quality.
  5. Elaboration of an expert opinion and determination of the annual amount of compensations using a uniform formula for calculation.
  6. Elaboration of a 20-year contract between the Republic of Austria and the forest-tenant.

Existing reserves are subject to regular control.

Present state of the establishment of natural forest reserves

Since 1995, newly registered forest areas have continuously been examined for their suitability and have been pre-selected as natural forest reserves. Finally, in 1997, 71 new reserves were established (see Figure 5).

While prior to the Natural Forest Reserve. project of the Federal Forest Research Centre 86 reserves with altogether 3,224 ha (FRANK 1995) existed in Austria, this number has almost doubled since the beginning of 1998 and now covers a total area of 6,072 ha (see Figure 3 and Table 2).

natural forests

Figure 3: Forest areas and number of reserves in 6 size classes of natural forest reserves.

As can be seen from Figure 3, most reserves have a size of 5 . 20 ha, while only few reserves are larger than 100 ha. However, compared to 1995, the number of large-scale reserves has doubled. This corresponds to the international strategies, which favour large preserves (cf. NOSS & COOPERRIDER 1994). The diagram also indicates that 55 % of the small reserves (< 5 ha of forest area) represent but 12% of the entire area covered by reserves. In contrast, 9 % of large-scale reserves (> 100 ha) represent 47 % of the reserve-covered area in Austria.

Forest type


Area (ha)

mountainous mixed forest



subalpine spruce forests



spruce-silverfir forests



high-subalpine larch and Pinus cembra forests



oak-hornbeam forest



beech forests



montane spruce forests



mixed oak-forests



subcontinental oak forests



Pinus nigra forests



Pinus uncinata forests



hard. swamp forests



dry and warm downy oak forests



larch forests



mixed linden forests



soft. swamp forests



mixed maple-ash forests






Table 2: Distribution of the natural forest reserves according to types of forests.

In Table 2, 125 forest communities are combined to groups of forests in order to describe the distribution of natural forest reserves. Most natural forest reserves are contained in mixed spruce-fir-beech forests and in subalpine spruce forests. All other groups of forests are represented by considerably lower numbers of reserves. With respect to area size, azonal special forest types are presently severely underrepresented. Fortunately, additional oak-hornbeam forests and beech forests could be established these past years. However, areas do not yet correspond to their representative share in the Austrian forest area and important types are not yet represented.

Ongoing projects outside the Natural Forest Reserves. project of the Federal Forest Research Centre

Before the Austria-wide Natural Forest Reserves. project was launched, research regarding natural forests focused mainly on the survey, documentation and evaluation of structure-related stand data, which is why comprehensive data is available in these fields (MAYER 1967, MAYER & NEUMANN 1981, MAYER et al. 1972, MAYER et al. 1987, ZUKRIGL et al. 1963, ZUKRIGL 1966, ZUKRIGL 1990, ZUKRIGL 1991, FRANK 1991, NEUMANN 1978, SCHREMPF 1978, etc.).

Future investigations can therefore follow up with the existing data and it is possible to carry out comparative surveys on the same sample plots and to determine changes regarding development. One example of this procedure is the follow-up survey of the virgin forest Neuwald.. In Figure 4, two surveys of the stand structure in 1961 and 1996 are compared.

Urwald ErstaufnahmeUrwald Zweitaufnahme

Figure 4: Comparison of stand surveys in the virgin forest “Neuwald” (Initial survey: 1961, follow-up survey: 1996)

For the newly established natural forest reserves a research concept is currently being worked out which is to provide for a survey programme of varying intensity, depending on the category of the reserve (standard reserve, natural forest stand, point-of-main-effort reserve). The investigation programme accounts for the specific situation of the Austrian natural forest reserves, but is also oriented to international proposals (COST E4) and agreements and to experiences made in other countries (Project group Natural Forest Reserves of the circle Site Mapping in the working group Forest Management 1993, THOMAS et al. 1994, etc.).

Site-related projects:

Microbial budgets in soils of natural forest communities..

The project is carried out by the University of Vienna together with the Federal Forest Research Centre. Microbiological processes in soils are surveyed in order to deduce indicators for the naturalness of forest ecosystems. Excluding any human influences, reference values for the soil-microbiological activity are determined (ZECHMEISTER-BOLTENSTERN, personal communication.).

Another aspect of the project is the nitrogen budget in forests. It is tried to quantify the N restocking from soils and the N loss. Natural forest reserves serve as reference areas for natural nitrogen leaching.

The project also includes the investigation of ethylene and methane decrease in natural forest ecosystems and the microbial diversity of such forests.

Projects related to vegetation:

The University of Salzburg and the House of Nature. in Salzburg carry out mycological and lichen investigations in natural forest reserves (RÜCKERT & WITTMANN 1995, TÜRK 1989, etc.). It was tried in these investigations to extrapolate from the flora of cryptogametes to the degree of naturalness of forests, and to use basic data on endangered fungi and lichen to work out new legal concepts for protection.

Apart from the above research projects, diplomal and doctoral theses at the University for Agriculture and Forestry and the Universities of Vienna and Salzburg contribute to the ongoing investigations in natural forest reserves; they include the first vegetational surveys in reserves as well as very specific investigations of lichen populations.

Karte Naturwaldreservate

Figure 5: Map of natural forest reserves in Austria.

6 References

DRUML, B. 1992: Rechtliche Grundlagen des Naturschutzes. Forschungsinstitut WWF Österreich, Bericht 8/1992, 60 S.

FRANK G., 1995: Naturwaldreservate. Ökobilanz Wald Österreich. Österreichisches statistisches Zentralamt und Forstliche Bundesversuchsanstalt. Wien. S. 37-41.

GRABHERR, G., KOCH, G., KIRCHMEIR, H. & REITER, K. 1995: Hemerobie österreichischer Waldökosysteme - Vorstellung eines Forschungsvorhabens im Rahmen des österreichischen Beitrags zum MAB-Programm der UNESCO. - Zeitschrift für Ökologie und Naturschutz, 4, 1995:131-136. G. Fischer.

GRABHERR, G., KOCH, G., KIRCHMEIR, H. & REITER, K. (1997): Naturnähe Österreichischer Wälder - Bildatlas. Sonderdruck zu ÖFZ 97/1: 39 S.

GRABHERR, G., (1997): Naturschutzfachliche Bewertung der Natürlichkeit österreichischer Wälder. - ÖFZ, 1/1997, S. 11-12.

KOCH, G. & KIRCHMEIR, H. (1997): Methodik der Hemerobiebewertung. Österr. Forstzeitung, Wien, 97/1.

KOCH, G., KIRCHMEIR, H., REITER, K. & GRABHERR, G. (1997): Wie natürlich ist der Österreichische Wald? Ergebnisse und Trends. Österr. Forstzeitung, Wien, 97/1.

LITSCHAUER, R., 1994: Maßnahmen der Gen-Erhaltung in Österreich. In: Klimaänderung in Österreich. Herausforderung an Forstgenetik und Waldbau. FBVA-Berichte 81/1994:97-108.

MÜLLER, F., 1994: Müssen wir waldbauliche Konzepte ändern? In: Klimaänderung in Österreich. Herausforderung an Forstgenetik und Waldbau. FBVA-Berichte 81/1994:97-108.

MAYER, H. & NEUMANN, M. 1981: Struktureller und entwicklungsdynamischer Vergleich der Fichten-Tannen-Buchen-Urwälder Rothwald/NÖ und Corkova Uvala/Kroatien. - Forstwiss. Cbl. 100/2, 1981: 111-132.

MAYER, H., SCHENKER, S. & ZUKRIGL, K. 1972: Der Urwaldrest Neuwald beim Lahnsattel. Centr.Bl. f. d. ges. Forstwesen 89/3, 1972: 147-190.

MAYER, H., ZUKRIGL, K., SCHREMPF, W., SCHLAGER, G., 1987: Urwaldreste, Naturwaldreservate und schützenswerte Naturwälder in Österreich. Waldbau-Institut der Universität für Bodenkultur. Wien.

NEUMANN, M. 1978: Waldbauliche Untersuchungen im Urwald Rothwald/Niederösterreich und im Urwald Corcova uvala/Kroatien. Diss. Univ. Bodenk./ Wien: 135 S.

NOSS, R.F. & COOPERRIDER, A.Y. (1994): Saving Nature.s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, D.C.; Covelo, California.

PROJEKTGRUPPE NATURWALDRESERVATE DES ARBEITSKREISES STANDORTSKARTIERUNG IN DER ARBEITSGEMEINSCHAFT FORSTEINRICHTUNG, (1993): Empfehlungen für die Errichtung und Betreuung von Naturwaldreservaten in Deutschland. Forstarchiv 64: 122-129.

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RÜCKERT, Th. & WITTMANN, H. 1995: Mycologisch-lichenologische Untersuchungen im Naturwaldreservat Kesselfall (Salzburg, Österreich) als Diskussionsbeitrag für Kryptogamenschutzkonzepte in Waldökosystemen. - Beih. Sydowia X: 168 - 191.

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SCHREMPF, W. 1978: Analyse der Verjüngung im Fichten-Tannen-Buchen-Urwald Rothwald in Niederösterreich. Centralbl. f. d. ges. Forstwes. 95(4): 217-245.

TIEFENBACH, M. 1993: Naturschutzgebiete in Österreich. Umweltbundesamt Monographien 38. Wien.

THOMAS, R., MROTZEK, R. & SCHMIDT, W. (1994): Aufgaben, Methoden und Organisation eines koordinierten Biomonitoringsystems in naturnahen Waldökosystemen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Systematisch-Geobotanisches Institut, Universität Göttingen. 127 S.

NATHER Generhaltungswälder

TÜRK, R. 1989: Die epiphytische und epigäische Flechtenflora und -vegetation im Naturwaldreservate Kesselfall. im Kaprunertal. - unpubl. Gutachten im Auftrag der Amtes der Salzburger Landesregierung (At. 16/02 Naturschutzreferat): 1-11.

WELAN, M. & KIND, M., 1995: Umwelt und Recht in Österreich. Diskussionspapier Institut für Wirtschaft, Politik und Recht, BOKU, Wien.

WOLKINGER, F. 1996: Natur- und Nationalparks in Österreich. Umweltdachverband ÖGNU, Graz 1996.

ZUKRIGL, K., ECKHART, G. & NATHER, J. 1963: Standortskundliche und waldbauliche Untersuchungen in Urwaldresten der niederösterreichischen Kalkalpen. - :itt. d. Forstl. Bundesversuchsanst., 62, Wien.

ZUKRIGL, K. 1966: Urwaldreste in den niederösterreichischen Kalkalpen. Angew. Pflanzensoziol. Wien, 18/19: 289-296.

ZUKRIGL, K., 1990: Naturwaldreservate in Österreich - Stand und neu aufgenommene Flächen. Umweltbundesamt Monographien 21. Wien.

ZUKRIGL, K. 1991: Ergebnisse der Naturwaldforschung für den Waldbau (Österreich). Schriftenreihe f. Vegetationskunde 21: 233-247.

Source: Telephone inquiries 11/95 and 1/98 with the administrative offices of the national parks. Similar to the situation with natural forest reserves, no official all-Austrian statistics of the percentage of forests in the national parks (cf. 4.1) is available.

2000-02-07 (KocG/FeiH). Comments:
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