Ecosystem Services

Forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services, which are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. In other words: humans concretely get something from forests. Ecosystem services are all the benefits that humanity derives from nature and the environment. This will balance human need for resources with the production of other services and goods, including the habitat needs of forest-dependent organisms. Ecosystem services are divided into three groups: provisioning, regulation and maintenance, and culture. These services include both biotic (related to living organisms) and abiotic (not related to living organisms) ecosystem outputs. Some examples of key ecosystem services are biodiversity development and conservation, carbon sequestration, watershed services (protection and enhancement of water supplies), soil conservation, recreation and, cultural values, social and economic benefits for communities, and high conservation value.

Teeb De 2012, Arriaza, Canas-Ortega, CanasAdueno, & Ruiz-Aviles, 2004; Lee & Han, 2002; Schirpke, Timmermann, Tappeiner, & Tasser, 2016 Thompson et al. 2011; Lindenmayer and Franklin 2002 Jenkins and Schaap, 2018

More details about ecosystem services of old-growth forests

Beech trees at the service of the environment

The great diversity of environments and habitats found in beech forest ecosystems are true treasure troves of biodiversity. These forests have exceptional value for the reconstruction of the climatic history of the areas where they arose and of the communities that live there. The environmental beauty of these healthy forests can significantly benefit both our mental and physical health and is considered an ecosystem service.

A large forest can influence the water cycle of a particular area and the consequent availability and quality of water. Water that settles on the ground is absorbed by the root system of the trees and transported through the various vessels in the tree trunk and branches up to the leaves where the transpiration processes release the water back into the atmosphere. In periods of drought and water shortage, trees can use the water stored in the soils to survive. These forests are creating constant and favorable environmental conditions, which indirectly influence cloud formation and precipitation on a larger climatic scale.

Deep forest soils rich in organic matter maintain a constant humidity around the root systems creating an important habitat for various soil organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates. These soil organisms, in turn, participate in the decomposition and recycling processes of organic matter and provide support services for biodiversity and habitat formation.

The water-accumulating capacity of natural forest ecosystems underlies their important role in limiting hydrogeological risk, slowing down the flow of water during heavy rainfall, and avoiding or reducing the risk of dangerous floods. Similarly, the presence of a dense tree cover is essential in limiting erosion and any avalanches and snow slides. Even after they die, the trees mechanically retain the snow, which melts more slowly in the forest, thanks in part to the shade they provide; in this way, the water from the melting snow is gradually absorbed by the soil and given off slowly to streams and rivers that flow to the valley floor, thus ensuring the long-term supply of water.

One of the most important ecosystem services that forests provide is the removal of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere releasing oxygen. Photosynthesis processes absorb carbon dioxide and water, releasing oxygen gas and producing organic molecules. Without plants, the composition of the atmosphere would be very different and animals – including humans – would not exist. Forest protection is an important way to prevent a further increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Old-growth forests are unique, including in terms of the ecosystem services they provide. Indeed, old-growth forests provide various ecosystem services, some of which are exclusive. The importance of services in these ancient forests has been highlighted and demonstrated in several scientific articles and publications. The forest structures that are absent in managed forests but present in old-growth forests, such as old trees, large dead trees, habitat trees with hollow trunks, and other microhabitats, are highly and uniquely biodiverse. Such structures harbor specific and rare species. The biodiversity of these forests is the result of evolutionary processes over millions of years and is driven by ecological forces such as competition, mutualism, climate, fire, and other natural disturbances. The life forms with their associated genetic diversity and habitat needs that occur in forested areas are not only trees, but all kinds of flora, fauna, fungi, and microorganisms. A sufficient level of biodiversity is necessary for ecosystems to survive, thrive, and carry out their natural processes.

Changes in structure and composition due to forest management can have important effects on the availability of habitat structures in the forest. Loss of biodiversity can have a huge impact on the resistance and resilience level of forests and their ability to mitigate damage from threats such as climate change and habitat degradation. Human perturbation has an important influence on the energy flux, biogeochemical cycles, and the loss of biodiversity of a forest ecosystem, which it is extremely difficult to recover.

Bütler et al. 2005, Buse 2008, Bußler et al. 2013, Hanski 2011, Imesch 2013, Lachat & Bütler 2008, Lachat et al. 2014, Lorenz 2005, Martikainen et al. 2000, Müller & Bütler 2010, Moning 2009. Piovesan, G., Biondi, F., Baliva, M., De Vivo, G., Marchiano, V., Schettino, A., & Di Filippo, A. (2019). Lessons from the wild: slow but increasing long‐term growth allows for maximum longevity in European beech. Ecology, 100(9), e02737. Flade 2004, Winter et al. 2003, Winter et al. 2016. Asbeck, T., Kozák, D., Spînu, A. P., Mikoláš, M., Zemlerová, V., & Svoboda, M. (2021). Tree-Related Microhabitats Follow Similar Patterns but are More Diverse in Primary Compared to Managed Temperate Mountain Forests. Ecosystems, 1-15. Camarero, J. J., Gazol, A., Piovesan, G., Borghetti, M., Baliva, M., … & Ripullone, F. (2021). Mediterranean old-growth forests exhibit resistance to climate warming. Science of The Total Environment, 149684. Jenkins and Schaap, 2018
The dominant type of natural ecosystem in Europe is the forest ecosystem. In Western, Central, and South-Eastern Europe, the prevalent forest systems are dominated by beech (Fagus sylvatica). The postglacial expansion process of beech has led to the development of more than 80 different types of beech forests, spread across most of the biogeographical regions of Europe. Almost two-thirds of the beech forest types listed in the Palearctic Habitat Classification are included in Annex I of the EU Habitat Directive. In total, beech forests harbor 20% of the terrestrial fauna in Central Europe with 7,000 to 10,000 animal species present, which have largely adapted their life rhythm to the seasonal cycle.

Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia

The silence of the beech forests is interrupted in springtime mainly by the singing of birds and by the sounds of the wild animals that live there. A characteristic sound heard in beech forests is the “drumming” of woodpeckers’. This rhythmic sound of their beaks pounding on trees is used to communicate or to identify each other. The most common woodpecker species found in forests are the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and the middle spotted woodpecker (Dendropicos medius). Two characteristic species of the old-growth forests of the Central are the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) and the middle spotted woodpecker (Dendropicos medius), rare and difficult species to see, associated with mature beech forests. Finally, the biggest European woodpecker is the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), which drills large holes in tree trunks to hunt for ant larvae or to build its nest.

Woodpeckers act as keystone species, influencing the diversity of their ecosystem through their ability to dig cavities in the trunks of trees. These cavities can serve as a food storage place, a night-time residence, and as a space for reproduction for several other species of birds, mammals, and hymenoptera; including squirrels, bats, beech martens, and bees. Woodpeckers are “old-growth cavity breeders”, as they are the only species able to make their own cavities for reproductive purposes. These cavities can then be reused by “secondary cavity breeders”, including various birds and mammals that are unable to make their own cavities. In this hierarchical structure, some species are entirely or partly dependent on the formation of natural cavities, as well as on a complex system of relationships and competitive behavior between the various species involved.

Woodpeckers also play an important role in wood decomposition processes and are often called “ecosystem engineers”, since they play a critical role in maintaining the ecological community in which they take part. They are valid indicators of healthy forests. The protection of their habitat, including hollow trees and their nesting places, has a positive influence on the preservation of the biodiversity of our forests.


Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia
Forests create their own microclimate. By capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and evapotranspiration through the leaves, they have a cooling effect on the environment. The drop in temperature affects not only the interior of the forest but also adjacent habitats and the mesoclimate at the landscape level. The cooling effect of forests on the environment will become increasingly important in light of the challenges of climate change and its impacts. The larger is the forest and the greater the amount of living and dead biomass, the greater the cooling effect. Even dead wood can have a significant impact due to its high water content and its buffer function in regulating temperature and humidity in the forest. In addition to the cooling effect, forest ecosystems also have a significant impact on buffering and dampening other climate phenomena. Forests form a buffer against strong winds, thereby reducing potential damage. They also enhance water retention in several ways. To begin with, evaporation from the soil is reduced by the forest cover. Furthermore, forests regulate the quantity, distribution pattern, and shape of the precipitation during rainfall events. This facilitates percolation and reduces runoff.

(Bürger-Arndt et al., 2012, Mathey et al. 2011) (De Frenne et al. 2013, Zellweger et al. 2020)(life prognoses project proposal Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia)
During hot days, forests have a cooling effect on their environment by casting shade and evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration consists of evaporation (the transition from water to vapour at the surface of a liquid) and transpiration (the evaporation through the plant’s pores, the so-called stomata). Energy is needed for water to evaporate. The source of energy used in the process of evapotranspiration is the heat energy of the surrounding air. The fact that evapotranspiration uses this heat, explains its cooling effect. The maximum temperature at the forest’s understory (micro-climate) is on average 4°C lower than the temperature above the forest (macro-climate). This cooling effect increases with higher outside maximum temperature (global warming) , higher canopy cover and higher amount of living and dead biomass. Forest management reduces canopy cover and biomass and will therefore accelerate global warming. In contrast, restoring old forests with higher canopy cover and biomass will buffer global warming and promote natural regeneration in the forest.

  Zellweger et al, 2020: Forest microclimate dynamics drive plant responses to warming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. Reducing urban heat islands: Compendium of strategies (2019) De Frenne, P., Zellweger, F., Rodríguez-Sánchez, F. et al. Global buffering of temperatures under forest canopies. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 744–749 (2019). Zellweger, F., Coomes, D., Lenoir J. et al. Seasonal drivers of understorey temperature buffering in temperate deciduous forests across Europe. Global Ecology and Biogeography 28, 12, 1774-1786 (2019). Bürger-Arndt et al. 2012
Forests play a key role in the global carbon cycle, extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and incorporating it into tree and soil biomass. The absorbed CO2 can only be returned to the atmosphere when the trees are burned or decay. In natural forests, the carbon stored in wood is retained in the living biomass for several centuries, as the natural lifespan of trees (e.g. beech) is 200-400 years and some mountain environments as the Apennines it can live for more than 600 years . After the death of a tree, some of the carbon will gradually be released back into the atmosphere through the respiration associated with the decay process, which is mainly driven by invertebrates, fungi and bacteria. However, significant quantities can still be stored in soil carbon sinks for very long periods (millennia). A change in forest management towards strict reserves and close to nature forestry with a reduction in harvesting rates/extended rotation cycles can significantly increase the total carbon storage in European forests.

Jenkins and Schaap, 2018
life prognoses project proposal
Cultural ecosystem services provide the space for recreation, relaxation and stress relief, leisure and nature experiences and are thus of paramount importance for ecotourism and landscape-based tourism. In this way, natural areas create a high value for individual well-being and health. The degree of naturalness of a landscape is an important factor in tourist’s choice of destination. As these tourists are usually not experts in assessing naturalness, they often rely on (international) labelling systems of protection regimes. Education and research are also important aspects of the value of forests to mankind. Ecotourism in old-growth beech forest provides an opportunity to convey bio-ecological and economic sustainability principles to the public, focusing on nature conservation and a reduction of the negative impacts of tourism . Visitors learn about nature and its processes with the support of hiking guides and various educational infrastructures. An example of such an educational infrastructure is an “educational trail” (a hiking trail where relevant, sometimes scientific, information is provided along the way by means of information panels) to promote a shared comprehension of old-growth forests . For scientists, forests also offer a wide variety of opportunities for research on the processes, flora and fauna and others. A durable ecotourism or educational project for the forest implies visitor management. Visitor management is important for preventing over-tourism and consequent damage. It comprises assessing the carrying capacity and drawing up a visitor management plan. This will help to direct and control the number of visits and decisions regarding the needs of new infrastructure. Based on this, a number of annual visits can be proposed that is acceptable and does not cause long-term damage to the area and ensure the long-term stability of the buffer zone area.

Hernández-Morcillo, Plieninger, & Bieling, 2013; Schägner, Brander, Maes, Paracchini, & Hartje, 2016; Smith & Ram, 2016
Teeb De, 2012
Getztner, 2020
Poponi, S., Palli, J., Ferrari, S., Filibeck, G., Franceschini, C., Ruggieri, A., & Piovesan, G. (2020). Toward the development of sustainable ecotourism in Italian national parks of the Apennines: insights from hiking guides. Ecology and Society, 25(4).
Ziaco, E., Alessandrini, A., Blasi, S., Di Filippo, A., Dennis, S., & Piovesan, G. (2012). Communicating old-growth forest through an educational trail. Biodiversity and Conservation, 21(1), 131-144.
Life prognoses project proposal
Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia
Forest ecosystems play a crucial role worldwide in building and maintaining soil fertility. The roots of trees take nutrients from the soil, allowing trees to grow and develop. When the tree dies, the nutrients are returned to the soil. Complex tree-root networks thus prevent soil erosion (by rainfall or wind), even on steep slopes. Logging exposes the land-to-land degradation and erosion. In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to desertification and the inability to support agriculture and forestry. Almost 3 billion people worldwide depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods, but at the same time, 52% of the agricultural land is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Soil protection to prevent erosion includes maintaining a constant forest cover, reducing the use of machinery for different terrains, careful machine felling and measures against clearcutting. Forestry should focus on close to nature silviculture characterized by small-scale actions and promote the maintenance of a heterogeneous forest structure (forests with a variety of species, age groups, layers of vegetation etc.) and the protective function of forests.

 Jenkins and Schaap, 2018,  Goal 15 – Life on Land, 2021
Among European broadleaf trees, Fagus sylvatica (beech) is considered a drought sensitive species, based on an observed decrease in radial growth under dryer circumstances. However, this decline in overall growth goes together with an increase in fine root growth and fruit production. Beech responds better to drought than many other deciduous tree species in Central Europe due to a strong allocative plasticity. The climate response and future spread of Fagus sylvatica to global warming is complex and controversial. While several authors assume that by the end of the present century beech will no longer occur in its optimal range (in many places where it is currently dominant) and its physiological capacity, growth and competitiveness will be affected, other studies show an excellent resistance of beech to climate change. Climate change cannot be directly and significantly influenced, but locally and regionally the buffer and cooling capacity will depend on the wider landscape naturalness . Large, forested landscapes can help reduce maximum temperatures and fluctuations as well as wind speeds and evaporation at the soil surface. It is of equal importance to manage the water retention capacity of the forest ecosystems within and around the component parts. This can be done by appropriate strategies of landscape conservation, rewilding and the sustainable development function of the buffer zone and surrounding managed landscapes.

Weber, P., Bugmann, H., Pluess, A.R. et al. Drought response and changing mean sensitivity of European beech close to the dry distribution limit. Trees 27, 171–181 (2013).
Zimmermann, J., Hauck, M., Dulamsuren, C. et al. Climate Warming-Related Growth Decline Affects Fagus sylvatica, But Not Other Broad-Leaved Tree Species in Central European Mixed Forests. Ecosystems 18, 560–572 (2015).
(Schall et al. 2012, Müller-Haubold et al. 2013) (e.g. Leuschner et al. 2001, Bréda et al. 2006)
Guidance document on buffer zone management and buffer zone zonation, april 13 2021
Forests serve as an important water storage with associated filtration, regulation, regeneration and absorption functions. They have an important role in the global supply of sufficient freshwater through their watershed services. Forest landscapes can therefore provide water for consumptive and non-consumptive human use, for aquatic productivity, flow regulation, buffering from storms/floods and filtration of nutrients and pollutants. The protection and management of water throughout the forest area and especially in areas with springs, rivers, streams, wetlands and other water bodies is of crucial and vital importance to humanity and ecosystems. Certain bodies of water also act as important habitats for forest species. Rich forest undergrowth, heterogeneous forest structure and dead wood increases water storage capacity. Good management will reduce the risk of flooding and erosion and will not negatively affect the water quality in a forest area (e.g. pollution, infrastructure…).

 (Jenkins and Schaap, 2018)
Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia
With the continued growth of the world’s population, we are causing severe damage to the environment and forest ecosystems (for example, through land-use changes and other interventions in forests, atmospheric and climate change), leading to the reduction and degradation of forests and other natural ecosystems that support biodiversity. The biodiversity of forests provides mankind with a wide range of ecosystem services, including the storage of genetic material, which is of great importance for the development of medicines and the cure of various diseases, among other things. It is estimated that three quarters of the world’s top medicines contain ingredients derived from plant extracts.

 (Target 15 – Why It Matters, 2021; Jenkins and Schaap, 2018)
Forests not only regulate CO2 reduction and O2 production, but also have an important role in disaster reduction because they act as a natural buffer. They provide very valuable and irreplaceable ecosystem services to the entire human society. Managing these precious assets to protect and preserve the forest into the future (when the pressure will increase even more) is of great importance. Biodiversity, climate change, soil conservation, water regulation, conservation and other regulation and conservation of ecosystem services are closely linked. Changes in one variable can have a drastic impact on the others. This implies that climate change induced shifts from the ecosystem’s equilibrium as well as human induced damage with respect to one ecosystem service (for example soil degradation by logging) can have a detrimental impact on other ecosystem services. In some cases, this negative feedback loop accelerates and aggravates the impact of following disturbances. The linkage between different services means that environmental degradation often results in the disappearance of cultural ecosystem services (various forms of tourism, recreation and education).

Handbook on sustainable forest management : Miha Varga, Bojan Kocjan, Domen Kocjan, Špela E. Koblar Habič, Urban Prosen- SLOVENIA FOREST SERVICE, Slovenia