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Relict of riparian floodplain forests: Natural distribution and ecology of Ulmus laevis in Switzerland


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  • 2024
Published in:
  • Journal for Nature Conservation. - Amsterdam : Elsevier BV. - 2024, vol. 78, p. 1-12
English European white elm (Ulmus laevis Pallas) is a typical species of riparian forest. In Switzerland, at the margin of its distribution range, this tree is rare and poorly known. Its naturalness was often debated, and the species was seen most often as only cultivated. We aimed to clarify its status, ecology and distribution with extensive field work and surveys in Switzerland, as well as historical investigations. Ulmus laevis has a scattered distribution along large rivers and lakes of Switzerland. It is found mainly on coarse, moderately calcareous soils with good fertility. It generally occurs in hardwood riparian forests and occasionally in softwood forests in more dynamic systems. Our findings indicate that U. laevis grows naturally in Switzerland. However, the channelization of the large rivers and stabilization of water levels of the main lakes during the 19th century have altered the alluvial dynamics necessary for U. laevis’ natural regeneration and thus its long-term survival. Therefore, U. laevis occurs today mainly as a relict species in ancient floodplain forests with altered dynamics. In this context, regeneration occurs only to a very limited extent and is scarcely sufficient for species persistence. With a total population of less than 1000 naturally occurring individuals, it belongs to the rarest and most threatened trees of Switzerland. By demonstrating the fact that this species was actually present originally in this country, we exemplify the need for a multi-faceted approach to answering questions on the original occurrence versus introduced character of a species, which is very important in regard to land use planning, conservation, and wise use of local plant resources.
Faculté des sciences et de médecine
Département de Biologie
  • English
Biology, life sciences
Open access status
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