Department of Forest Ecology and Soils

Cycles of matter and energy fluxes have an enormous impact on the development of healthy forests. The pedosphere (soil cover) plays a crucial role in this process as it is the transition zone between atmosphere (climate), lithosphere (geology), hydrosphere (water) and biosphere (biology). Key task of forest ecology is to provide the ecological fundamentals for sustainable forestry. An effective planning tool for this purpose is forest site mapping. In anticipation of future climate change, it is very important for forest management to gain as much knowledge as possible on the forest sites and to understand the interactions between tree vegetation and soil.

Besides this traditional production-oriented approach, forest ecology addresses increasingly environment-relevant aspects. Studies focus on biochemistry and soil biology related to the carbon cycle and the fluxes of greenhouse gases from forest soils. Due to our professional competence in the fields of vegetation research and soil ecology we are able to contribute to topical issues such as nature conservation and biodiversity. Soil research becomes more and more a cross-cutting discipline thus following an international trend. The integration of the Unit of Agricultural Soil Mapping into the Department of Forest Ecology is a first step in this direction. The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) supports spatial analytics and the dissemination of results via the Internet (WebGIS).

Priority Areas of Work

Knowledge about ecological processes in forests provides valuable indications for silviculture, tree species selection, forest regeneration and harvesting. Special attention is given to the interactions between soil and tree. This is of utmost importance for ecologically sensitive ("difficult") sites.
Spatial analyses of the site and representation of natural resource potentials are valuable planning tools. The Department is a contact point for forest site mapping, where new technologies, including spatial modelling, are adapted and further developed. In the field of agriculturally used soils, digital soil maps provide a valuable database for forest management and environmental protection.

The tasks of the Department comprise also vegetation-related and soil biological contributions to nature conservation and biodiversity issues. Research activities encompass diversity and the ecological function of soil organisms in natural forests. The aim of the investigations is to understand their impact on the growth of trees and plants and on the soil.

Biogeochemical and soil microbiological investigations focusing on  greenhouse gases fluxes from soils (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides) and on the carbon and nitrogen cycle in forests and other ecosystems highlight the ecological background of the current environmental dispute (greenhouse effect).
Monitoring: the EU-wide monitoring programme provides valuable information on the condition of and changes in forest soils. Special emphasis is placed on the role of carbon pools as regards carbon sequestration and carbon release in forests (Kyoto Protocol). Besides, other permanent observation plots are maintained focussing on forest regeneration and germination bed development.

Main Tasks and Research Activities

  • Operation of a soil analytical laboratory for physical and chemical soil analyses
  • Operation of a soil testing laboratory for soil microbiological analyses
  • Management and operation of soil sample bank (Pedothek, dating back to 1955)
  • Operation of a herbarium
  • Mapping of agriculturally used soils in Austria
  • Analogue and digital soil and site mapping
  • Use of geographic information systems for spatial analytics and data evidence
  • Management of technical databases (soil and site related databases, measuring database, climate database, etc.)
  • Management of meteorological and other forest ecological measuring stations on site


Head of Department: Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Ernst Leitgeb
Tel. +43-1-878 38-1201, email:

Secretary Eva Merwald
Tel. +43-1-878 38-1202, Fax: +43-1-878 38-1250
Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8, 1131 Vienna, Austria

Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW)
Austria, 1131 Vienna, Seckendorff-Gudent-Weg 8 | Tel.: +43 1 878 38-0

Autor: Leitgeb E.