Significant changes in primary forests of the Carpathian Mountains of Slovakia began in the 11th century. Many forests experienced widespread destruction during the Middle Ages, primarily due to the increased mining activity at the time, and, eventually, the extensive pasture and burnings during the Wallachian colonization.1 The original forests have been preserved in the least accessible areas; they have largely been protected by the distance from human settlements and complex and difficult terrain (these are predominantly mountain forests in the 6th and 7th vegetation stages, e.g., beech-fir and spruce). The primary forests of the lowlands and lowland mountains were almost completely destroyed before and during the Middle Ages.
The first precise data to evaluate how much primary forest remained in Slovakia are from 1970; national forest inventory indicated that 57,400 hectares was more than 12 years old and 14,960 hectares was older than 140 years. In 1989, the size of primary forests was estimated to be 18–20,000 hectares.2 Today, the estimated area of primary forests in Slovakia is mapped in detail thanks to the work of the NGO Prales, o.z.; an area of 10,120 hectares has been classified as primary forests, which represents 0.47 % of the total area of Slovakian forest areas, and a mere 0.21 % of the entire Slovak Republic.1 Interestingly, official forestry statistics from both national and international sources overestimate the primary forest extent at 1.2 %.3 Although that estimate suggests that the Slovak Republic has a relatively large amount of old forests within Europe, the percentage of primary forests is still very low compared to the overall forest extent within the country.
The first protected areas in Slovakia were established in 1895 in an area close to Slovenská Lupča (these are parts of NPR Příboj and NPR Ponická dúbrava), but those were not primary forest areas. The old forests were initially protected in 1913; it was at this time that Badínský Prales and Dobročský Prales reservations were founded, and they still exist today.4 Although the majority of Slovak primary forests are in reservations today (95 %), the forests continue to disappear; for instance, almost 128 hectares of primary forests disappeared in 26 various regions between 2009 and 2016. Even today, 2,867 hectares of primary forests remain unprotected or are insufficiently protected. The proper level of protection is guaranteed by the 5th protection level, the highest forest protection level possible. Only 69 % of primary forests (7,313 hectares) is under the highest protection. In four different regions of Slovakia 3,766 hectares of beech primary forests are under the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage UNESCO.5 Some of those areas are threatened by exclusion due to logging that takes place within their borders. Nature protection in Slovakia has not been very effective; in the national parks (protection level 3) driving, road construction, and calamity logging are permitted. This situation indicates that urgent reform of overall nature protection policies is needed preserve the residual primary forests.
Our research areas in Slovakia are located in beech, mixed beech-fir forests (Poľana Mountain, Low Tatras, Great Fatra, Little Fatra, Vihorlat Hills, and Bukovske Hills), and also in mountainous spruce forests (Orava Beskids, Great Fatra, Little Fatra, Low Tatras, High Tatras, and Poľana Mountain).
|3.||Great Fatra||Jánošíkova kolkáreň|
|5.||High Tatras||Bielovodská dolina|
|7.||High Tatras||Zadné Meďodoly|
|8.||High Tatras||Nefcerka (Kôprová valley)|
|11.||High Tatras||Tichá dolina|
|16.||Low Tatras||Veľký Gápel|
|26.||Vepor Hills||Klenovský Vepor|
|28.||Vihorlat Hills||Morské oko|
|30.||Western Tatras||Tomanová dolina|
|31.||Western Tatras||Zadná Tichá|