Old-growth forests in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro harbour highest continental carbon sink in Europe, finds new paper

Old-growth forests continue to disappear in Europe, with many being logged before their identification and protection. To help map these important ecosystems for conservation and research, a new paper by WILDCARD researchers uses rigorous criteria to identify old-growth mountain forest stands in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro that have reached their last stage of ecosystem dynamics.

Co-authored by WILDCARD researchers Renzo Motta (University of Turin), Giorgio Alberti (University of Udine) and Davide Ascoli (University of Turin), the paper looks into a network of four mixed montane old-growth forests in the Dinaric Alps of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, one of the few regions in temperate Europe that still holds old-growth forests. Strict indicators were applied to investigate forests characterised by structure, disturbance history and processes typical and exclusive of the last stage of the forest dynamic.

The researchers found that the studied old-growth sites harbour a high amount of living biomass, including ample presence of trees larger than 1 meter at breast height and older than 400 years. The sites were also found to have a high biomass of wood from dead trees. This results in the highest forest carbon sink at the continental level in Europe, totalling 398-484 Mg C ha-1. The Dinaric old-growth forest network presents robust indicators of old-growthness, similar structure, and dynamic processes across all four investigated sites, representing high-priority sites for forest protection.

Although the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 provides a broad definition of old-growth forests, using strict indicators to map specific old-growth forest areas is important for both forest conservation and research, as it contributes to the establishment of conservation priorities, offers reliable reference sites for ecosystem restoration, and helps to further ongoing research on the structural differences between managed and unmanaged forests.

In most EU countries, very few old-growth forests remain and they are typically small and isolated. While the EU Biodiversity Strategy mandates their legal protection, old-growth forest loss continues unabated, with less than 1.5 million hectares of old-growth forests remaining in Europe.

Download the open-access paper: “Old-growth forests in the Dinaric Alps of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro: a continental hot-spot for research and biodiversity”.