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Journey to the Ancient Forests of Italy
In August 2020, I was asked to document in pictures the Italian old-growth beech forests inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A complex task, but even more so, an extraordinary experience. Photographing a forest may seem rather easy: trees don’t run away. However, the reality is far more... read more
From deadwood, the forest comes to life
Unlike managed and cultivated forests, old-growth beech forests are characterized by the presence of trees in different growth stages. In these dynamic and constantly renewing ecosystems, old and senescent trees facing a slow and relentless decay caused by natural disturbances lead to the accumulation of large amounts of deadwood which... read more
On the “skin” of beech trees
The tree bark is the outermost layer of trees, through which they interact with the surrounding environment. Besides, it protects them from water loss and from parasites, pathogens, and predators. It is constantly evolving and, especially in intact forests, is often home to an amazing variety of organisms and microenvironments.... read more
The hidden world of the forest
The beech forest floor is home to a surprising biodiversity. If you look closely, you will see that it is formed by various layers. The most superficial layer is the litter, which mainly contains plant material such as leaves, branches, fruits, and animals. Under it, the decay litter consists of... read more
Ecosystem engineers
When you enter a beech forest, your first impression may be of a dull and scarcely populated environment. But if you look closely, you will discover a true treasure trove of biodiversity. The silence of beech forests – especially in spring – is broken by the several songs of the birds inhabiting... read more
The “lungs” of beech trees
While walking in a beech forest, you might have the impression to be in a Gothic cathedral, since the place is shady and wet. In spring, the thin, furry, and bright green leaves of beech trees gradually become thicker and dark green, and the impenetrable foliage of the tree crowns... read more
Beech trees at the service of the environment

Beech trees at the service of the environment

Beech forest ecosystems are home to a variety of environments and habitats making them true treasure troves of biodiversity. They are outdoor scientific laboratories of outstanding value for the reconstruction of the climatic history of the territories where they have settled and of the communities inhabiting them. Besides, a healthy forest is an environment of extraordinary beauty that can considerably benefit our mental and physical health. Such benefits belong to the so-called “ecosystem services”, that is the multitude of benefits that a certain ecosystem provides to people.

Therefore, the importance of forests is not limited to the possibility of exploiting trees for timber and fuel production; sure enough, these ecosystems play an important practical role in our existence, offering essential services for free, every day.

For instance, a big forest can impact on the water cycle of a certain territory and, as a consequence, on its availability. In fact, the tree root system absorbs water precipitated onto land which travels along pathways both for the capillarity and the “traction” exerted by the transpiration processes involving the leaves. A lot of this water can be stored in the tree trunk, so that it will be available in periods of great drought. Finally, water is released into the atmosphere during tree transpiration: this process, multiplied by the several trees forming the forest, maintains constant and favorable environmental conditions and, indirectly, affects the cloud formation and precipitation on a larger climatic scale.

The activity of the root systems guarantees the presence of a constant humidity around the roots, allowing the survival of several soil organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates, which in turn take part in the decomposition and recycling processes of the organic matter, providing support services to the biodiversity and habitat formation.

Furthermore, the water accumulation capacity in big trees is at the base of their important role of mitigation of the hydrogeological risk, slowing down the water flow during violent precipitation and avoiding or reducing the risk of dangerous floods. Similarly, the presence of the tree canopy is essential to reduce erosion and eventual avalanches and snowslides. Even after their death, trees mechanically hold snow, which in the forest melts more slowly also thanks to the shadow they provide: in this way, the water resulting from the melting snow is gradually absorbed by the soil and slowly released into streams and rivers running towards the valley floor, guaranteeing a long-term water supply.

The ecosystem services provided by beech forests are many and complex, but we would like to mention one of the most important: the production of oxygen! Photosynthesis processes take in carbon dioxide and water and release oxygen gas, producing organic molecules. Without plants, the composition of the atmosphere would be very different, and animals – including humans – may not exist.

A little stream running through the beech forest - Photo by Francesco Lemma
A temporary puddle in the leaf litter - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Water, a rare and precious element in the forest - Photo by Francesco Lemma
A small pool of stagnant water among the rocks - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Beech trees sinking their robust roots into the ground - Photo by Francesco Lemma

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Project financed by funds identified under Law No. 77 of 20 February 2006 "Special measures for the protection and fruition of Italian sites of cultural, landscape-related, and natural interest, inscribed on the World Heritage List”, placed under UNESCO protection.