Long-term afforestation experiment at the Alpine treeline site Stillberg, Switzerland

Background information

The Stillberg ecological treeline research site in the Swiss Alps was established in 1975, with the aim to develop ecologically, technically, and economically sustainable reforestation techniques at the treeline to reduce the risk of snow avalanches. In the course of time, additional research aspects gained importance, such as the ecology of the treeline ecotone under global change. Long-term monitoring of the large-scale high-elevation afforestation has generated data about tree growth, survival, and vitality. In addition, detailed characteristics of the microsite conditions of the research were conducted. Besides providing a scientific basis and practical guidelines for high-elevation afforestation, this research has contributed to a comprehensive understanding of ecological processes in the treeline ecotone.

Experiment description

The Stillberg afforestation experiment was established in 1975 by planting 92,000 seedlings of Larix decidua, Pinus cembra and Pinus mugo ssp. uncinata in the alpine treeline ecotone. The afforestation site is located on a northeast-facing slope with steep, topographically highly structured terrain and covers elevations from 2075 to 2230 m a.s.l. The afforestation site was divided into 4052 square plots of 3.5 × 3.5 m, arranged in a regular species-alternating pattern over the whole area. Each plot contained 25 trees of one species (1350 plots per species), and the seedlings were systematically planted 70 cm apart. The trees have been monitored since 1975. Specifically, tree mortality was assessed annually from 1975 until 1995 and has been documented every ten years since then, with surveys in 2005 and 2015 (the next survey is due in 2025). Height of the surviving trees was measured in 1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2005, and 2015. In 1995, 2005, and 2015, drivers of tree vitality were assessed for a subset of trees per plot. Additionally, an extensive set of environmental parameters characterizing microsite conditions of the afforestation area were recorded before and after the planting of the trees.

Data description

The five datasets from the afforestation experiment comprise ecological and environmental data from the main afforestation experiment in five datasets with accompanying metadata (Stillberg_afforestation_all_metadata.xlsx). All data and metadata files are bundled in a ZIP-file (Stillberg_afforestation_v1.zip). In particular, a first dataset contains environmental data characterising microsite conditions of the 4000 plots with regard to soil, topography, vegetation and microclimatic conditions (Stillberg_afforestation_plot_data_v1.csv; Stillberg_afforestation_plot_metadata_v1.csv. In each plot, the natural tree regeneration was assessed by counting seedings of several tree species in 2005 and 2015 (Stillberg_afforestation_regeneration_data_v1.csv; Stillberg_afforestation_regeneration_metadata_v1.csv). Furthermore, specific information about each of the 92’000 planted trees of the tree species is available (Stillberg_afforestation_tree_parameter_data_v1.csv; Stillberg_afforestation_tree_parameter_metadata_v1.csv). Survival data for each of the 92’000 individual trees can be found in a separate dataset (Stillberg_afforestation_tree_survival_data_v1.csv; Stillberg_afforestation_tree_survival_metadata_v1.csv). Tree growth and vitality parameters are available for all trees from 1995, and for subsets of trees for 2005 and 2015 (Stillberg_afforestation_tree_measurements_data_v1.csv; Stillberg_afforestation_tree_measurements_metadata_v1.csv).

Funding Information:

This work was supported by:

Related Datasets

EnviDat Project: Treeline Research Stillberg Switzerland

Related Publications

Lechler, L, Rixen, C., Bebi, P., Bavay, M., Marty, M., Barbeito, I., Dawes, M.A., Hagedorn, F., Krumm, F., Möhl, P., Schaub, M. and Frei, E.R., 2023. Fifty years of data enhance the mechanistic understanding of ecological processes in treeline ecotones under global change. In preparation.

Barbeito, I., Brücker, R.L., Rixen, C. and Bebi, P., 2013. Snow fungi—induced mortality of Pinus cembra at the alpine treeline: evidence from plantations. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 45(4), pp.455-470.

Barbeito, I., Dawes, M.A., Rixen, C., Senn, J. and Bebi, P., 2012. Factors driving mortality and growth at treeline: a 30-year experiment of 92 000 conifers. Ecology, 93(2), pp.389-401.

Senn J. 1999. Tree mortality caused by Gremmeniella abietina in a subalpine afforestation in the central Alps and its relationship with duration of snow cover. European Journal of Forest Pathology 29(1): 65-74.

Schönenberger W, Frey W. 1988. Untersuchungen zur Ökologie und Technik der Hochlagenaufforstung: Forschungsergebnisse aus dem Lawinenanrissgebiet Stillberg. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen 139(9): 735-820.


Frei, Esther R.; Lechler, Lia; Marty, Mauro; Rixen, Christian; Bebi, Peter (2023). Long-term afforestation experiment at the Alpine treeline site Stillberg, Switzerland. EnviDat. doi:10.16904/envidat.397.

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Data and Resources


Field Values
DOI 10.16904/envidat.397
Publication State Published
  • Email: esther.freifoo(at)wsl.ch ORCID: 0000-0003-1910-7900 Given Name: Esther R. Family Name: Frei Affiliation: Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
  • Email: lia.lechlerfoo(at)slf.ch ORCID: 0009-0006-6818-2105 Given Name: Lia Family Name: Lechler Affiliation: WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
  • Email: mauro.martyfoo(at)wsl.ch ORCID: 0000-0002-0943-2454 Given Name: Mauro Family Name: Marty Affiliation: WSL
  • Email: rixenfoo(at)slf.ch ORCID: 0000-0002-2486-9988 Given Name: Christian Family Name: Rixen Affiliation: WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF Additional Affiliation : Climate Change, Extremes and Natural Hazards in Alpine Regions Research Center CERC, 7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland Additional Affiliation : Department of Ecology, Environment & Evolution at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Email: bebifoo(at)slf.ch ORCID: 0000-0001-8868-6569 Given Name: Peter Family Name: Bebi Affiliation: WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF Additional Affiliation : SLF Additional Affiliation : CERC
Contact Person Given Name: Esther Family Name: Frei Email: esther.freifoo(at)wsl.ch
Publication Publisher: EnviDat Year: 2023
  • Type: Collected Date: 1975-01-01 End Date: 2015-12-31
Version 1.0
Type dataset
General Type Dataset
Language English
Location Switzerland
Content License Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA)    [Open Data]
Last Updated October 19, 2023, 15:26 (UTC)
Created April 18, 2023, 08:10 (UTC)