Žofínský prales National Nature Reserve, Czechia

Detailed historical forest records including maps suggest that 50 ha of the core zone (74.5 ha) of Žofínský prales (98 ha) have never been logged1. It was the first protected forest in Czechia and among the first in Europe: the core area has been under strict protection since 1838, but deadwood extraction occurred until 1882 1. From 1849 to the 1940s Žofínský prales was a part of a game reserve; as a result, trees belonging to the 40–50-cm diameter class are virtually absent2. After WWII the density of large herbivores increased further although the area was no longer managed as a game reserve2. The whole reserve was fenced in 1991 to exclude the over-dense herbivore populations2. Currently, however, the fence is broken in several places; consequently, all the European silver fir (Abies alba) and even some Norway spruce (Picea abies) seedlings are browsed. A storm hit Žofínský prales in 2007 felling about 9% of the core zone; conifer stands were most heavily affected1.

Žofínský prales has been thoroughly studied with all living and dead trees being mapped1. European beech (Fagus sylvatica) dominates, followed by Norway spruce; the other, much less common, trees are silver fir, wych elm (Ulmus glabra), sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), goat willow (Salix caprea), common aspen (Populus tremula) and silver birch (Betula pendula) 1 3. The first detailed records on species composition are from 1847, silver fir being the most common tree at that time, followed by Norway spruce and beech3. The reasons for the low percentage of silver fir today are air pollution particularly from the 1960s into the 1980s, the 2007 storm1 and certainly also the reserve’s history as a game reserve, as silver fir is the most susceptible tree to browsing4. The representation of spruce has also decreased sharply after the storm of 2007 and a subsequent European spruce bark-beetle (Ips typographus) outbreak3. Beech has benefited from the decrease of silver fir and spruce, and today, in contrast to similar forests such as Mittelsteighütte, large parts of the reserve consist of pure beech forest (photo below). On moist sites spruce competes successfully against beech3. Beech, spruce and fir all reach almost 500 years in age5.

Beech forest in the autumn

A remarkable feature of Žofínský prales is the high number of extremely rare and endangered wood-decay fungi (so-called virgin forest indicators or relicts) which have been found there in recent years by mycological investigations. These include:

  • Camarops tubulina
  • northern tooth (Climacodon septentrionalis)
  • Phellinus nigrolimitatus
  • scaly pholiota (Pholiota squarrosoides)

There are also several small wetlands and peat springs. Elevation ranges from 735 to 830 m, gentle northwest-facing slopes predominate. Depending on the source mean annual precipitation is 866 or 917 mm, with a June maximum, and mean annual temperature 4.3 or 6.2°C 1 3. Bedrock consists of granite1.



  1. Šamonil, P. et al. (2013): Individual-based approach to the detection of disturbance history through spatial scales in a natural beech-dominated forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 24: 1167–1184.
  2. Kenderes, K. et al. (2009): Natural Gap Dynamics in a Central European Mixed Beech-Spruce-Fir Old-Growth Forest. Ecoscience 16(1):39–47.
  3. Janík, D. et al. (2016): Tree spatial patterns of Fagus sylvatica expansion over 37 years. Forest Ecology and Management 375: 134-45.
  4. Standovár, T. & Kenderes, K. (2003): A review on natural stand dynamics in Beechwoods of East Central Europe. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 1(1–2): 19–46.
  5. Sebková, B. et al. (2012): Interaction between tree species populations and windthrow dynamics in natural beech-dominated forest, Czech Republic. Forest Ecology and Management 280:9–19.