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An Analysis of Forest Restoration 120 Years after Reforestation on Badlands in the Southwestern Alps


Address correspondence to D. Vallauri, email


We report the results of descriptive and functional analyses of a representative forest and watershed in the southwestern Alps, where the Forest Service has attempted reforestation of badlands for erosion control since 1860, relying on the non-native Pinus nigra ssp. nigra (Austrian black pine). One hundred twenty years after the first tree plantings, the plant communities are still early seral assemblages for the most part, with Austrian black pine occurring alone in the canopy. In contrast, most of the marly soils have physically recovered part of their total depth, with layers of fragmented and altered material equal to 50 cm, but their structure and chemical fertility is still poor. Autogenic soil restoration is proceeding however, largely engineered by earthworms (up to 49 individuals and 27 g/m2). Two dominant species are presumed keystone: Lumbricus terrestris and Octolasion cyaneum (Lumbricidae). The reestablishment of indigenous tree species is apparently not inhibited by site fertility or lack of nearby seed pools. We hypothesize that excessive stand density is responsible for the poor regeneration because it discourages the birds and rodents that control seed dissemination. Mortality of pines due to infestation by Viscum album subsp. austriacum (mistletoe) is creating large openings and should be specially managed. One hundred twenty years after the first plantings, the nineteenth-century vision that restoration of badlands was ecologically feasible is validated, as is the strategy to establish pioneer tree species. Here Austrian black pine acts as a nurse stand and enables the return of indigenous broad-leaved trees and a wide array of herbaceous species as well. However, our results clearly indicate that appropriate silvicultural tactics should now consist of tree thinning to promote the true restoration of native biodiversity and ecosystem functions.