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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
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... 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
On the “skin” of beech trees

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.

The bark of the Beech Tree is rather smooth surfaced, especially in young specimens, and grayish with horizontal markings due to epiphytic crustose lichens, that is lichens simply growing on the surface of other plants, without taking nutrients from them.

However, in mature forests, it is not rare to find centuries-old beech trees whose bark is thicker and rougher, with knots, fissures, and cracks especially in the lower trunk, and even the variety quercoides, recalling the trunk of an oak for complexity. It’s exactly thanks to this variety of recesses and fissures that several forms of life can develop: among the others, mosses, fungi, and lichens.

In beech forests, a characteristic fungus is the parasitic Fomes fomentarius (commonly known as hoof fungus). This species produces large fruit bodies which are shaped like a horse’s hoof growing on the tree bark and continues to grow for a long time also on dead and fallen trees, changing from a parasite to a decomposer.

Another great protagonist of the complex beech forest environment is the lichen Lobaria pulmonaria, easily recognizable for its large, bright-green leaves which can reach a diameter of 20-30 cm. It is a bioindicator of environmental quality: in fact, this species is particularly susceptible to pollution and environmental alterations, and its presence in a certain environment means that the latter is particularly healthy and natural. Lobaria prefers old or very old trees, and its name derives from the resemblance of its thalli to lung lobes and from its alleged healing powers in the treatment of lung diseases.

If you look closely at the bark of beech trees, it won’t be difficult to see various animal organisms: gastropods, beetles, dipterans, and arachnids which inhabit the bark searching for food or shelter. Some of them, such as for instance some species of harvestmen and some moths belonging to the family Geometridae, are classic examples of crypsis, since they show colors which perfectly blend with the varied bark patterns.

In some spots, on dead or dying trees, the outermost layer of the bark can detach, revealing the fascinating drawings of the winding tunnels created by bark beetles. These beetles lay their eggs in the holes of the bark, and their larvae tunnel under it as they eat and grow. In turn, the gaps between the trunk and the detached bark can become further recesses colonized by other species.

In conclusion, a true labyrinth of biodiversity!

Moss and lichens wrapping up a beech tree - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Foliose and crustose lichens on the tree trunk - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Fruticose, foliose, and crustose lichens on a tree trunk - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Mosses wrapping up the tree bark - Photo by Francesco Lemma
Lobaria pulmonaria on the trunk of a beech tree - Photo by Francesco Lemma
The rare White-backed Woodpecker - Photo by Bruno De Amicis

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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.