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Volume 2, Pages 827-841
Mini-Review Article

Anthropogenic Effects on Forest Ecosystems at Various Spatio-Temporal Scales

Forest Ecosystems Research Centre, University of Goettingen, Germany

Received 28 September 2001; Revised 7 January 2002; Accepted 11 January 2002

Copyright © 2002 Michael Bredemeier.


The focus in this review of long-term effects on forest ecosystems is on human impact. As a classification of this differentiated and complex matter, three domains of long-term effects with different scales in space and time are distinguished: 1- Exploitation and conversion history of forests in areas of extended human settlement 2- Long-range air pollution and acid deposition in industrialized regions 3- Current global loss of forests and soil degradation.

There is an evident link between the first and the third point in the list. Cultivation of primary forestland — with its tremendous effects on land cover — took place in Europe many centuries ago and continued for centuries. Deforestation today is a phenomenon predominantly observed in the developing countries, yet it threatens biotic and soil resources on a global scale. Acidification of forest soils caused by long-range air pollution from anthropogenic emission sources is a regional to continental problem in industrialized parts of the world. As a result of emission reduction legislation, atmospheric acid deposition is currently on the retreat in the richer industrialized regions (e.g., Europe, U.S., Japan); however, because many other regions of the world are at present rapidly developing their polluting industries (e.g., China and India), “acid rain” will most probably remain a serious ecological problem on regional scales. It is believed to have caused considerable destabilization of forest ecosystems, adding to the strong structural and biogeochemical impacts resulting from exploitation history.

Deforestation and soil degradation cause the most pressing ecological problems for the time being, at least on the global scale. In many of those regions where loss of forests and soils is now high, it may be extremely difficult or impossible to restore forest ecosystems and soil productivity. Moreover, the driving forces, which are predominantly of a demographic and socioeconomic nature, do not yet seem to be lessening in strength. It can only be hoped that a wise policy of international cooperation and shared aims can cope with this problem in the future.