Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Carpathian Montane Forests (10)

Carpathian montane conifer forests (C Michael Hogan)
The Carpathian Mountains form an arc 1400 km long, stretching from the western border of the Czech Republic to the Iron Gate on the Danube River between Romania and Yugoslavia. The climate of the Carpathians is rather diversified, though on average moderately cool and humid, with both temperature and precipitation strongly correlated with elevation.  Snow cover lasts from less than three months in the foothills to more than seven months in the alpine zone.

The mountains form a specific ecoregion characterised by diverse  geology, soils, vegetation, and anthropogenic impacts. The forest vegetation of the Sudety and Carpathian Mountains form three elevational zones, there are montane to altimontane beech and mixed beech forests, submontane to altimontane spruce and spruce-fir forests, and supporting alpine vegetation. A long period of exploitive economic activity has changed the species composition of mountain forests. Spruce has increased considerably in recent centuries, and the percentage of fir and beech has decreased significantly.

Forests occur in the foothills (as high as about 600 m a.s.l.). These are mostly mixed deciduous forests, which are dominated in the north by pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), lime (Tilia cordata) and hornbean (Carpinus betulus). In the south the forests of this ecozone are dominated by various oak species (Quercus sessilis, Q. cerris, Q. pubescens, Q. frainetto).

Further up the slopes, as Hogan says:
The montane zone, between 600 and 1100 m in the north and between 650 and 1450 m in the south, is dominated by two major species: European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir (Abies alba). Nearly pure beech forests dominate the montane zone in some mountain ranges in the Western Carpathians (Bile Karpatý, Male Karpatý), the Eastern Carpathians (Vihorlat, Bukovské Vrchý, Bieszczady) and the Southern Carpathians. In most areas beech is mixed with silver fir, Norway spruce (Picea abies), and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). In some places the montane zone is dominated by conifers, usually a mixture of silver fir and Norway spruce (Tatras, Moravske Beskydy, Oravska Magura in the Western Carpathians, Gorgany, Czornohora, and Munti Bistrei in the Eastern Carpathians). 
Higher still the montane forests at sub-alpine altitudes on mountains have a character rather like that Boreal coniferous forest of the taiga. The dominant species are coniferous trees, especially species of fir, larch, pine, and spruce (though some broad-leaved angiosperm species, especially aspen, birch, poplar, and willow also grow):
The subalpine zone (1100-1400 m in the north, 1400-1900 m in the south) consists of almost pure Norway spruce forests, with a small admixture of rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). Stone pine (Pinus cembra) occurs at the alpine timberline in the highest mountain ranges (Tatras, Czornohora, Marmures, Fagaras, Retezat) of the Carpathians. At the timberline belt of the Tatras mixed Pinus cembra-Larix decidua forests grow, similar those in central Alps. [...] The Bieszczady mountains in the Eastern Carpathians lack the subalpine spruce forest zone. Here, the timberline of dwarfed beeches (at approximately 1200 meters) directly border the alpine meadows. 

Southern Carpathian Mountains, Romania. (C.Michael Hogan)
There is a distinct krummholz zone above the timberline (1400 m in the northwestern Carpathians to 1900 m in the south). Here grow dense thickets of mountain pine (Pinus mugo), dwarf juniper (Juniperus communis subsp. nana) and green alder (Alnus viridis). Beyond this are lush alpine meadows, except for the highest peaks (for example in the Tatras) which are mostly rocky or covered with very sparse alpine vegetation.

The Carpathian Mountains are still the habitat for the European bison, brown bear, wolf, lynx, wild cat, and a nesting site of the golden eagle.  

Juniper forest Ukrainian Carpathians (Encyclpedia of the Ukraine)

Spruce Forest Ukrainian Carpathians (Encyclopedia of the Ukraine)

The montane forests of the of the Carpathians were not generally settled by the Slavic-speaking communities until quite late on.
An important process for the development of the entire region was the movement of the Walachian shepherds from the Balkans along the entire Carpathian chain in the Middle Ages. The Walachians were the first people to inhabit the more remote areas in the interior of the mountains. By cutting and burning forests along the mountain ridges they created numerous glades and meadows, which since have been a distinct feature of the Carpathian landscape. Traditional forms of grazing cattle, sheep and horses still persist in the Southern and Eastern Carpathians in Romania and in Ukraine, but are rapidly declining in the Western Carpathians.
They arrived in Poland in the thirteenth century, and it is from this time that the distinctive Highlander folk culture developed in the region.

Sources: C Michael Hogan, 'Carpathian montane conifer forests', The Encyclopedia of the Earth World Wildlife Fund August 23, 2008

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