Biodiversity and Conservation vol:11 issue:2 pages:213-242
Simultaneously with increasing afforestation efforts in western Europe, among conservationists the consciousness is growing that protecting areas to conserve biodiversity will not be sufficient in the long term, and that also the ecological restoration of more or less severely altered areas will be necessary. The probability that recently established forest stands develop towards their ecological reference (i.e. ancient forest) depends largely on the possibility of the target species to colonize them. We focused on the colonization ability of forest plant species and particularly on so-called ancient forest plant species. Major constraints for ecological forest restoration are the spatial characteristics of the target site (isolation, shape and area), imposing dispersal limitations, and in the duration and intensity of the historical land use, leading to changes in habitat characteristics influencing recruitment probability. We reviewed the ecological literature with respect to these constraints and conclude that it takes at least a century to restore the understorey layer of recent forests, even when the target stand is adjacent to a well-developed ancient forest. Both recruitment and dispersal limitation of the target species are responsible for this. Newly established forests should therefore be situated at a minimal distance of the ancient forest source. In other cases, forest plant species will not be able to colonize the newly established forest on a measurable time scale and artificial introduction of forest plant species can be taken into consideration. The negative effects of habitat characteristics, and mainly high soil nutrient values in the recent forest stand can be mitigated by soil nutrient lowering measures. Disturbances in the recent forest should be minimized to maintain a high canopy closure level, preventing light demanding, high competitive species from establishing a stable population. An additional negative consequence of soil disturbances is that it stimulates germination of species from the soil seed bank, which is mainly composed of highly competitive or ruderal species.