Friday, July 11, 2014

Western Italian Alps

Dr. Renzo Motta was kind enough to take me on a day tour through the Western Italian Alps to see the forests and some of their field sites. It just took less than two hours to drive from Turin to the western border of Italy where we could look over into France. Apparently this area has changed hands many times during the past world wars and other skirmishes between the countries.

The valley was quite full of dust and pollution making the sky hazy, although that cleared away as we went up higher into the Alps.

Starting near Turin (and around much of northern Italy as well as Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, and the Czech Republic) we saw many canola (or rapeseed) fields flowering yellow. This was a constant site in all of the countries that I visited. Worldwide production of rapeseed has increased 12 times from 1965 to 2012. It has been increasingly incorporated as a food oil but its main growth has been due to its use as a biofuel. Canada and China are the clear leaders in the production of rapeseed oil, but I saw these fields flowering throughout my travels.

We drove past the Fenestrelle Fortress (called the Great Wall of the Alps) which is two miles long, covers 320 acres, and climbs 2000 feet in elevation along the ridge top of the mountain in this picture. You can just see the fortress along the crest of the hill.  It is most obvious in the bottom right hand corner which is the main structure and the rectangular structure at the very top of the hill is clear. It is the largest fortified structure in Europe. Victor Amadeus II commissioned the fortress and work was started in AD 1728 and completed in AD 1850. Victor Amadeus abdicated his throne in AD 1730 to his son King Charles Emmanuel III who was the main leader to use the fortress. It remained in use until it was decommissioned in AD 1947. By that time the fortress was used to detain high profile prisoners.

Larch is a dominant part of the vegetation in the Western Italian Alps. Since it was spring time, it had leafed out in the lower part of the mountain but was still brown at higher elevation.  The mountain itself is made up of metamorphic rocks including calc-schist which developed along the subduction zone between the African plate and the Tethys Oceanic Plates from 115 to 44 million years ago (Takeshita et al. 1994). This rock showed very complex folds and strong mineralization.

We visited some field sites near an old small village that included a recently renovated chapel to San Giovanni (Italian for Saint John, which could apparently refer to twelve possible saints in this area). This structure had some very nice carved wooden beams that supported gutters made from whole tree stems that were carved out.


Many castles where established on prominent hill tops throughout this region which shows a long history of habitation and conflict.  

The greatest of these structures is the Sacra di San Michele (also known as Saint Michael’s Abby) which was situated on the top of the tallest mountain at the break between the Alps and the valley containing Turin. Part of this monastery was first constructed in the late 900s AD (the date is not precisely known) by the hermit San Giovanni Vincenzo at the request of Michel the archangel (according to oral history). This is possibly the same San Giovanni with the small chapel dedicated to him mentioned above which is further up the valley in the Alps. This monastery was under Benedictine rule until AD 1622 when it fell into disrepair. It was renovated and reinvigorated by the Rosminians in AD 1850. The monastery was the inspiration for the book The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco in AD 1980.

The Sacra is built into the rock itself with outcrops evident around its foundation. This is truly an amazing site. It was closed for tours when we were there, but just seeing the outside of the monastery was impressive.

The ruin in the foreground is the Monks' Sepulchre which was constructed in the second half of the 11th century.

This is very beautiful country and I noted that I would like to come back with my family to stay near the Lago Grande di Avigliano which is one of two glacial moraine lakes at the base of the mountain where the Sacra di San Michele is located.

Takeshita, H., Shimoya, H., & Itaya, T. (1994). White mica KAr ages of blueschistfacies rocks from the Piemonte ‘calcschists’ of the western Italian Alps. Island Arc, 3(3), 151-162.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

University of Turin Dendrochronology Lab

The Dendrochronology Laboratory at the University of Turin is part of the Department of Agronomy, Silviculture and Land Management. This is a satellite campus that is located on the outskirts of Turin. They focus on dendroecology and forest management in anthropogenically altered landscapes. They also have a specialty area in fire ecology and use wood anatomy in many of their studies.  

From left to right Johann Housset, Renzo Motta, Cecile Leroy, Davide Ascoli, and Jose Vaquez
(Giorgio Vacchiano joined us but is not in the picture).

They have a well-equipped woodshop with a band saw that I envied. They also had a large format sanding table for sanding cores. Their wood archive (called a magazine) was much like many small labs in the US. They had a map case to store cores and boxes of wood on shelves from various past projects. The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research is leading an effort for more standard wood archiving protocols that can ensure the long-term preservation of our wood samples (Creasman 2011). This is a goal that Indiana State University is also working to emulate but it takes a lot of time, space, and effort to achieve good quality archiving of samples. They use the European standard of LINTAB measuring machines and TSAP as the measuring and dating program developed by Rinntech (,english/).

The lab had the standard wall display of charismatic specimens which I was intrigued by, although this is the only collection that I have ever seen that includes the head of a wild boar which apparently was a problem on one of their sampling sites.


This core shows the suppressions from larch budmoth (Zeiraphera diniana) which is a common defoliating insect in Larix trees throughout Europe. It has a very regular eight year cycle that changes strength through time.

Dr. Renzo Motta was my main contact for all of my travels in Northern Italy and was a gracious host.  I got to enjoy one of the best meals that I had during my European travels in Pavia with his family at a small restaurant in the old city. I had contacted Dr. Motta about his mast (tree seeding) data sets back in 2000 during my PhD dissertation. I was happy to hear that he is looking into using this dataset that they collected and that Piovesan had published on masting in beech (Fagus) trees (see the previous post). Dr. Motta has done a lot of work examining ungulate effects on tree growth (Motta 1996). I appreciated his work with coarse woody debris in forests (Motta et al. 2006b) which is something that we have examined in my lab through Ross Alexander’s work on his masters thesis. During our tour of the Western Italian Alps, Renzo pointed out a stand of trees that was left on the landscape because the local villagers knew that it protected them from snow avalanches. He has done some research on protective forests such as this (Motta and Haudemand 2001) and examined other human land use effects (Motta and Nola 2001, Motta et al. 2006b).

Dr. Giovanni Bovio has done some dendrochronological work with Dr. Motta and the others in the lab and has published work on land zoning and fire history (Bovio and Camia 1997) and the effect of sylviculture on forest fires (Bovio 2011).

Dr. Raffaella Marzano focuses on fire ecology in the wildland-urban interface (Marzano et al. 2008) and the establishment of seedlings after forest fires (Marzano et al. 2013). I got to see a poster of some repeat photography that Dr. Marzano took after a fire that showed the growth of herbs and the establishment of seedlings on plots with different forest management techniques. I hoped that we would be able to visit this site in the Western Italian Alps during our field tour, but we did not have the time to get to this site.

Dr. Davide Ascoli specializes in fire ecology and has actually examined fire scars in two angiosperm genera (Populus and Betula, Ascoli and Bovio 2010). During my European travels, I was presenting on three research projects, one of which was the potential of scarring from fire in 15 angiosperms species. So it was exciting to see Dr. Ascoli’s work that examined multiply scarred angiosperms. Much of Dr. Ascoli’s other work includes adaptive management and use of prescribed burning in Italy (Ascoli et al. 2009, Ascoli and Bovio 2013, and Ascoli et al. 2013).

Dr. Giorgio Vacchiano specialized in forest ecology with a main focus on modelling (Vacchiano et al. 2008) and has also conducted some drought stress analysis in Scots pine (Vacchiano et al. 2012). He also has some recent publications simulating forest encroachment (Vacchiano et al. 2014a) and examining the effect of soils on Scots pine recovery after fire (Vacciano et al. 2014b). Dr. Vacchiano was also very helpful in planning my day tour to the Western Italian Alps.

I spent a wonderful evening with Renzo and his colleagues. We ate some true Italian pizza (the best in the world) and were treated to gelato at Groms afterwards that might just be the best gelato in the world. They gave me a great tour of the Turin in the evening where I got to hear about the history of the city and also some personal views of growing up in this city. I was interested in hearing about academic process in Italy. The norm is to progress through all degrees (BS, MS, and PhD) at the same institution and then to teach there when you are done. From my travels I found that in Italy, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic the people are much more connected to their community (and home) and they don’t tend to move nearly as much as the United States norm. Also, all three countries have a limited number of academic institutions where one can get a job which means that professorships are limited within their countries. I forget the specific numbers, but if a PhD researcher wanted to stay in Italy, they could only apply to 5-10 potential institutions for a job compared to the thousands that are available in the US. Germany had many more institutions that one could choose from and had more of a migratory population.

Dr. Renzo Motta (Full Professor, Specialties: Forest Ecology - Silviculture)
Dr. Giovanni Bovio (Full professor, Specialties: Forest Management - Fire Prevention)
Dr. Raffaella Marzano (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Fire Ecology)
Dr. Giorgio Vacchiano (Post Doc, Specialties: Forest Ecology)
Dr. Davide Ascoli (Post Doc Specialties: Fire Ecology - Fire Management - Forestry - Prescribed Burning - Disturbance Ecology)
Johann Housset (PhD Candidate)

Jose Vazquez (PhD Candidate)
Cecil Leroy (Visiting MS student)

Ascoli, D., Beghin, R., Ceccato, R., Gorlier, A., Lombardi, G., Lonati, M., ... & Cavallero, A. (2009). Developing an adaptive management approach to prescribed burning: a long-term heathland conservation experiment in north-west Italy. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 18(6), 727-735.
Ascoli, D., & Bovio, G. (2010). Tree encroachment dynamics in heathlands of north-west Italy: the fire regime hypothesis. iForest-Biogeosciences and Forestry, 3(5), 137.
Ascoli, D., & Bovio, G. (2013). Prescribed burning in Italy: issues, advances and challenges. iForest-Biogeosciences and Forestry, 6(2), 79.
Ascoli, D., Lonati, M., Marzano, R., Bovio, G., Cavallero, A., & Lombardi, G. (2013). Prescribed burning and browsing to control tree encroachment in southern European heathlands. Forest Ecology and Management, 289, 69-77.
Bovio, G., & Camia, A. (1997). Land zoning based on fire history. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 7(3), 249-258.
Bovio, G. (2011). Forest fires and systemic silviculture. Italian Journal of Forest and Mountain Environments, 66(3), 239-243.
Creasman, P. P. (2011). Basic principles and methods of dendrochronological specimen curation. Tree-Ring Research, 67(2), 103-115.
Marzano, R., Camia, A., & Bovio, G. (2008). Wildland-urban interface analyses for fire management planning. In Proceedings of the second international symposium on fire economics, planning, and policy: A global view (pp. 311-318). Albany, CA, USA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service.
Marzano, R., Garbarino, M., Marcolin, E., Pividori, M., & Lingua, E. (2013). Deadwood anisotropic facilitation on seedling establishment after a stand-replacing wildfire in Aosta Valley (NW Italy). Ecological Engineering, 51, 117-122.
Motta, R. (1996). Impact of wild ungulates on forest regeneration and tree composition of mountain forests in the Western Italian Alps. Forest Ecology and Management, 88(1), 93-98.
Motta, R., & Nola, P. (2001). Growth trends and dynamics in subalpine forest stands in the Varaita Valley (Piedmont, Italy) and their relationships with human activities and global change. Journal of Vegetation Science, 12(2), 219-230.
Motta, R., Berretti, R., Lingua, E., & Piussi, P. (2006a). Coarse woody debris, forest structure and regeneration in the Valbona Forest Reserve, Paneveggio, Italian Alps. Forest Ecology and Management, 235(1), 155-163.
Motta, R., & Haudemand, J. C. (2000). Protective forests and silvicultural stability: an example of planning in the aosta valley. Mountain Research and Development, 20(2), 180-187.
Motta, R., Morales, M., & Nola, P. (2006b). Human land-use, forest dynamics and tree growth at the treeline in the Western Italian Alps. Annals of Forest Science, 63(7), 739-747.
Vacchiano, G., Garbarino, M., Mondino, E. B., & Motta, R. (2012). Evidences of drought stress as a predisposing factor to Scots pine decline in Valle d’Aosta (Italy). European Journal of Forest Research, 131(4), 989-1000.
Vacchiano, G., Motta, R., Long, J. N., & Shaw, J. D. (2008). A density management diagram for Scots pine (Pinus sylvestrisv L.): A tool for assessing the forest's protective effect. Forest Ecology and Management, 255(7), 2542-2554.

Vacchiano G., Motta R., Bovio G., Ascoli D. (2014a). Calibrating and Testing the Forest Vegetation Simulator to Simulate Tree Encroachment and Control Measures for Heathland Restoration in Southern Europe. Forest Science,  60:241-252.
Vacchiano G., Stanchi S., Marinari G., Ascoli D., Zanini E., Motta R. (2014b) Fire severity, residuals and soil legacies affect regeneration of Scots pine in the Southern Alps. Science of the Total Environment, 472:778-788.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dendrochronology in Italy

It is interesting to have the chance to visit so many dendrochronology laboratories in such a short time.  I started to get a feeling for different foci of dendrochronology in each country based on the specialties of the researchers in those countries.

During my quick tour of Italy, I was able to visit with the researchers from three universities in Northern Italy (University of Pavia (see previous post), University of Turin (see a future post), and University of Padua (see a future post)). From these visits, I found that the focus for Italian dendrochronology is on Dendroecology with an emphasis on forest management in anthropogenically modified forests. I could definitely appreciate the work on anthropogenically modified forests after traveling around the Swiss and Italian Alps for a few days.  I had always heard that European forests have been disturbed by humans for the last 2000 years, but I always thought (as is the case in the United States) that you would still have high-elevation, steep slopes that people would not use.  I was amazed at how extensive the human influence was throughout Italy, such as this terracing of the hill slope at high elevation in the Western Italian Alps.

Some excellent work is being done in dendroclimatology (mostly from Dr. Carrer’s lab in Padua and Dr. Di Filippo in Viterbo). Dr. Rosanne Fantucci is a principle in a private company that examines geomorphic hazards (Fantucci 2007, Fantucci and Sorriso-Valvo 1999). Much of the European (and Italian) approach includes wood anatomy as emphasized by Dr. Tommaso Anfodillo, Dr. Gaia Petit, Dr. Daniele Castagneri, and Dr. Manuela Romagnoli (Romagnoli et al. 2011).

From reading the literature, I really like Dr. Piovesan’s work using cluster analysis to determine bioclimatic zones for beech trees throughout Italy (Piovesan et al. 2005a) and his work on masting (Piovesan and Adams 2001). His other work deals a lot with dendroecology of beech trees (Piovesan et al. 2003, Piovesan et al. 2005b, Piovesan et al. 2008).

Dr. Alfredo Di Filippo works with the bioclimatic zones of beech as well (Di Filippo et al. 2007, Di Filippo et al. 2012) and the climate response of beech (Di Filippo et al. 2010).  I was amazed at the range of sites that beech can occupy and its dominance in European forests because I am mainly used to it as a riparian species in the United States where it is constrained to more moist sites. Beech-Maple is thought to be the climax forest for much of the eastern United States, but disturbance and a lack of time has prevented its canopy dominance in many of these forests. While visiting the Eastern Italian Alps, this was a dominant species even at fairly high elevations (the brown canopy before leaf-out) and covers many bioclimatic zones as shown by the research cited above.

Dr. Carlo Urbinati is with the Università Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona, Italy and does a lot of work with Dr. Marco Carrer on the climate response of various species (Carrer and Urbinati 2004, Carrer and Urbinati 2006).

Other very productive Italian researchers such as Dr. Paolo Cherubini (WSL) and Dr. Franco Biondi (University of Nevada - Reno) have positions outside of Italy and focus on Dendroecology and Dendoclimatology. I was not able to find a single Italian dendrochronologist who specializes in Dendroarchaeology which is surprising considering the excellent wooden structures throughout the country, especially in Venice.

I will discuss the other researchers and labs (University of Pavia, University of Turin, and University of Padua) in greater depth in other posts.
University of Turin
Dr. Renzo Motta (Full Professor, Specialties: Forest Ecology - Silviculture)
Dr. Giovanni Bovio (Full professor, Specialties: Forest Management - Fire Prevention)
Dr. Raffaella Marzano (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Fire Ecology)
Dr. Giorgio Vacchiano (Post Doc, Specialties: Forest Ecology)
Dr. Davide Ascoli (Post Doc Specialties: Fire Ecology - Fire Management - Forestry - Prescribed Burning - Disturbance Ecology)
Johann Housset (PhD Candidate)
Jose Vazquez (PhD Candidate)

University of Pavia
Dr. Paola Nola (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Dendroecology - Applied Botany - Vegetation Ecology)

University of Padua
Dr. Marco Carrer (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Dendrochronology - Forest Dynamics - Climate Change)
Dr. Daniele Castagneri (Post doc, Specialties: Dendroecology - Wood Anatomy)
Dr. Emanuele Lingua (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Forest ecology)
Dr. Gaia Petit (Assistant Professor, Specialties: Ecology)
Dr. Tommaso Anfodillo (Professor of Forest Ecology, Specialties: Water Relations in Forestry Species - Forest Dynamics - Hydraulic Architecture)

University of Tuscia in Viterbo
Dr. Gianluca Piovesan (Professor and DendroLab Director, Specialties: Dendroecology - Forest management - Nature conservation - Landscape planning - Forest restoration)
Dr. Alfredo Di Filippo (Assistant Professor, Specialties:Tree biology - Forest ecology - Dendroecology - Bioclimatology - Climate change impact)
Dr. Manuela Romagnoli (Professor of Wood Science and Technology, Specialties: Forestry - Wood Science and Technology - Dendrochronology - Wood dating and conservation)

Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy
Dr. Carlo Urbinati (Associate Professor, Specialties: Dendroecology - Climate Response)

Private Company
Dr. Rosanna Fantucci (Principle consultant with Geologi Associati Fantucci & Stocchi in Rome, Specialties: Geomorphic hazards).
Carrer, M., & Urbinati, C. (2004). Age-dependent tree-ring growth responses to climate in Larix decidua and Pinus cembra. Ecology, 85(3), 730-740.
Carrer, M., & Urbinati, C. (2006). Longterm change in the sensitivity of treering growth to climate forcing in Larix decidua. New Phytologist, 170(4), 861-872.
Di Filippo, A., Alessandrini, A., Biondi, F., Blasi, S., Portoghesi, L., & Piovesan, G. (2010). Climate change and oak growth decline: Dendroecology and stand productivity of a Turkey oak (Quercus cerris L.) old stored coppice in Central Italy. Annals of Forest Science, 67(7), 706.
Di Filippo, A., Biondi, F., Maugeri, M., Schirone, B., & Piovesan, G. (2012). Bioclimate and growth history affect beech lifespan in the Italian Alps and Apennines. Global change biology, 18(3), 960-972.
Di Filippo, A., Biondi, F., Čufar, K., De Luis, M., Grabner, M., Maugeri, M., Presutti Saba, E., Schirone, B. and Piovesan, G. (2007), Bioclimatology of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in the Eastern Alps: spatial and altitudinal climatic signals identified through a tree-ring network. Journal of Biogeography, 34: 1873–1892. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2007.01747.x
Fantucci, R., & Sorriso-Valvo, M. (1999). Dendrogeomorphological analysis of a slope near Lago, Calabria (Italy). Geomorphology, 30(1), 165-174.
Fantucci, R. (2007). Dendrogeomorphological analysis of shore erosion along Bolsena lake (Central Italy). Dendrochronologia, 24(2), 69-78.
Piovesan, G., & Adams, J. M. (2001). Masting behaviour in beech: linking reproduction and climatic variation. Canadian Journal of Botany, 79(9), 1039-1047.
Piovesan, G., Bernabei, M., Di Filippo, A., Romagnoli, M., & Schirone, B. (2003). A long-term tree ring beech chronology from a high-elevation old-growth forest of Central Italy. Dendrochronologia, 21(1), 13-22. DOI: 10.1078/1125-7865-00036
Piovesan, G., Biondi, F., Bernabei, M., Di Filippo, A., & Schirone, B. (2005a). Spatial and altitudinal bioclimatic zones of the Italian peninsula identified from a beech (Fagus sylvatica  L.) tree-ring network. Acta Oecologica, 27(3), 197-210.
Piovesan, G., Biondi, F., Filippo, A.D., Alessandrini, A., and Maugeri, M. (2008), Drought-driven growth reduction in old beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forests of the central Apennines, Italy. Global Change Biology, 14: 1265–1281. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01570.x
Piovesan, G., Di Filippo, A., Alessandrini, A., Biondi, F. and Schirone, B. (2005b), Structure, dynamics and dendroecology of an old-growth Fagus forest in the Apennines. Journal of Vegetation Science, 16: 13–28. doi: 10.1111/j.1654-1103.2005.tb02334.x
Romagnoli, M., Cherubini, M., Prislan, P., Gricar, J., Spina, S., & Cufar, K. (2011). Main phases of wood formation in chestnut (Castanea sativa) in central Italy—comparison of seasons 2008 and 2009. Drv Ind, 62, 269-275.