Bavarian Forest

The Bavarian Forest National Park (Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald) was the first one to be established in Germany already in 1970. It covers an area of 24,250 ha. The most important peaks are Lusen (1373 m a.s.l.) and Großer Rachel (1453 m a.s.l.). The major land cover is by forest ecosystems either natural or previously managed. Around settlements, extensively managed grasslands occur that are rich in species.

The region is rich in springs, brooks and rivers. Some natural lakes (e.g. Lake Rachel) and ponds that were supporting rafting in the past exist. Besides the deciduous and the conifer forests, wetlands and raised bogs are important habitats with high value for nature conservation.

The park is one of the very few examples of still natural forest ecosystems in Central European siliceous mountains. This type of mountains is widespread and covers large surfaces, but in other places human land use has modified the ecosystems substantially. Natural forests have become rare even in most remote mountain regions, where the rough climate with deep frost, large amounts of snow and a short vegetation period was never favourable for agriculture. Since medieval times, the exploitation of ore and the fabrication of glass were impacting on forest ecosystems via their tremendous energy consumption and the need for construction wood. In fact, such areas were dominated by industrial land use for long-time periods. During last centuries, forests started to be exploited by rafting. Construction wood was transported by the rivers downstream to the densely populated regions, where forests have been lost centuries ago. The large area of the Bavarian Forest, however, still preserved natural forest ecosystems at high elevations. Together with the neighbouring Sumava region across the border in the Czech Republic (also a national park) this is the largest area of closed forest in Central Europe.


Fig. 1: Lake Rachel and the beech and fir forests on its steep slopes are located in the core area of the national park. This lake is a shaped by small local glaciers which existed here during the Pleistocene. This area is so remote that forests were never exploited, which is extremely rare to be found in Central Europe.


In the lower altitude of the park, former plantations of spruce, which is naturally only dominant in the highest ridges, are exposed to natural dynamics. This is leading to a replacement of conifers by deciduous species, mainly beech (Fagus sylvatica).


Fig. 2: The mixed deciduous forest at the lower slopes of the national park is exposed to natural dynamics since the establishment of the PA. It is an excellent study area for restoration ecology


In the 1990ies a bark beetle outbreak caused a large scale calamity in the high elevation Norway spruce forest (Picea abies). Until then, a forest ecosystem breakdown of this extent was unknown in Central Europe. Now, this natural event and its legacy can be studied. Earth observation tools and remote sensing are appropriate approaches for spatio-temporal patterns of the related processes.


Fig. 3: Section of the forest decline area in the core of the Bavarian Forest National Park in approx. 1300 m a.s.l. (aerial photo by Google Earth, 2008).


Today, natural regeneration occurs, but inertia is caused by the modified microclimate and competitive grasses that have reached high coverage since the decline of the forest (e.g. Calamagrostis villosa). Furthermore, it will be interesting to investigate whether an upward shift of tree species can be observed now, as niches are unoccupied.


Fig. 4: Complete die-off caused by bark beetle (Ips typographus) in Norway spruce forest in high elevation of the national park. The large scale breakdown of this natural ecosystems and the following recovery can be monitored and quantified with remote sensing.


The departments of biogeography and disturbance ecology at the University of Bayreuth have established permanent plots together with the national park authority and with DLR in order to relate ground information to hyperspectral sensors (Leutner et al. 2012). Such approaches can serve for future comparison in face of climate warming. In 2013, we organized an international conference in the park on the role of natural disturbances, initiating further research cooperation.


Fig. 5: Airborne Hymap scene of the Bavarian Forest National Park with the raster of locations of previous biodiversity studies of the Dept. of Biogeography, Bayreuth. Red lines indicate park borders.


Environmental education plays a big role in the Bavarian Forest National Park. Besides its large reserve for wild animals such as European bison, lynx or wolf, it is one of the largest canopy walks that is attracting tourists and visitors. Furthermore, experimental playgrounds in the forest and several modern information centres are efficient in informing visitors about biodiversity, nature conservation and the regional species and ecosystems.


Fig. 6 a,b: The canopy walk attracts many visitors. The dome (b) reaches above the tree tops.


Table of ecosystem services/functions and available data



Bässler, C., Müller, J., Svoboda, M., Lepsova, A., Hahn, H., Holzer, H., Pouska, v., 2012. Diversity of wood-decaying fungi under different disturbance regimes - a case study from spruce mountain forests. Biodiversity and Conservation 21, 33-49.

Lehnert, L. W., C. Bässler, R. Brandl, P. J. Burton, and J. Müller. 2013. Highest number of indicator species is found in the early successional stages after bark beetle attack. Journal for Nature Conservation 21, 97-104.

Leutner, B; Reineking, B; Müller, J; Bachmann, M; Beierkuhnlein, C; Dech, S; Wegmann, M 2012. Modelling forest alpha-diversity and floristic composition – On the added value of LiDAR plus hyperspectral remote sensing. Remote Sensing, 4(9), 2818-2845.

Müller, J., Bußler, H., Goßner, M., Rettelbach, T., Duelli, P., 2008. The European spruce bark beetle Ips typographus (L.) in a national park - from pest to keystone species. Biodiversity and Conservation 17, 2979-3001.


Click here to download a poster of the protected area.