Plant and Soil

, Volume 437, Issue 1–2, pp 257–272 | Cite as

Four decades of the coexistence of beech and spruce in a Central European old-growth forest. Which succeeds on what soils and why?

  • Pavel DaněkEmail author
  • Pavel Šamonil
  • Tomáš Vrška
Regular Article



The dynamics of forests dominated by European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) have been studied intensively. However, mainly due to a lack of long-term data, little is known about how these dynamics interact with soil conditions. In an old-growth spruce-beech forest with high soil diversity we studied how the development of tree populations differs among different soils.


Data from tree censuses carried out in 1972, 1996 and 2010 in the Boubín Primeval Forest in the Czech Republic were combined with detailed soil sampling to assess the relative abundance of beech and spruce and the role of the main drivers of population dynamics (tree growth, mortality and recruitment) in changes with respect to soils.


The spatial distribution of populations of the two species primarily reflected a gradient of soil hydromorphism, with beech dominating drier soils and spruce dominating wetter soils. Over the 38 years, beech expanded on all major soils, yet the most important drivers differed. The only driver acting in favour of spruce on certain terrestrial soils was its faster radial growth. However, the effect was weaker than the effect of drivers that prioritized beech, mainly tree mortality. Fine-scale mortality (deaths of individual trees) was more significant on terrestrial soils, while the effect of coarse-scale mortality (deaths from a single severe windstorm event) increased towards hydromorphic soils. Certain soils (Histosols and Albic Podzols) diverged from the general trends because of their different disturbance regimes and specific tree–soil interactions.


Soils play an important role in the dynamics of an old-growth spruce-beech forest. Their physical and chemical properties together with specific disturbance regimes determine fine-scale differences in tree species composition. At the same time, soils themselves are affected by trees, e.g. through acidification. The current expansion of beech is expected to continue on terrestrial soils but will probably slow down with increasing soil wetness.


Fagus sylvatica Picea abies Tree–soil interactions Disturbance Podzolization Mountain forest dynamics 



We would like to thank our colleagues Dušan Adam and Ivana Vašíčková from the ‘Blue Cat’ research team for technical and field support, David Hardekopf for English proofreading and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. The research was supported by Grantová Agentura České Republiky (the Czech Science Foundation), project No. 16-15319S and partly funded by non-project institutional support of The Silva Tarouca Research Institute for Landscape and Ornamental Gardening (VUKOZ IP-00027073).

Supplementary material

11104_2019_3968_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (485 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 485 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest EcologyThe Silva Tarouca Research Institute for Landscape and Ornamental GardeningBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Faculty of Forestry and Wood TechnologyMendel University in BrnoBrnoCzech Republic

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