25 years of Long-Term Ecosystem Research in National Park Kalkalpen

Thomas Dirnböck, Environment Agency Austria (EAA)

Site-based infrastructure for Long-Term Ecosystem Research (LTER) has already been established in the 19th and the 20th centuries. In recent years, LTER has gained momentum since the research infrastructure strategy of the European Commission (ESFRI) is establishing a coherent network of LTER sites and seamless access to long-term data. The National Park Kalkalpen, Upper Austria, with the LTER master site Zöbelboden is one such example where ecological monitoring infrastructure and long-term data is used by researchers for already 25 years. The site has been set up in the framework of the pan-European monitoring programmes in 1992 to evaluate abatement measures for the reduction of air pollutants being harmful to ecosystems (sulphuric acids, nitrogen, ozone, etc.). Nowdays, LTER Zöbelboden focuses on several environmental changes (air pollution, climate change, forest management) and their effects on ecosystem services provided by mountain forests (pollutant filtration, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc.). LTER Zöbelboden became the most intensively investigated mountainous karst ecosystem in Austria, participating in many national and international monitoring and research projects.

Figure 1. Intensive monitoring and research at LTER Zöbelboden in the National Park Kalkalpen.

The modelling carried out within ECOPOTENTIAL is an excellent example of a successful integration of LTER-born knowledge for supporting decision making in the National Park Kalkalpen.

Figure 2. The Lady’s slipper orchid in the National Park Kalkalpen is protected through the EU habitats directive.

The regional ecosystem model LandscapeDNDC, which was developed by experts at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany (KIT), is calibrated using long-term data from LTER Zöbelboden. Together with remote sensing data, the carbon sink function of forests and its modification due to forest disturbances from wind and spruce bark beetle is being studied.

Temperate forests currently act as sinks for atmospheric carbon. However, wide-spread tree damage, which has been occurring in increasing intensity during the last two to three decades, causes a release of carbon thereby increasing the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

A total of 22 habitat types, including eight that are priority, have been nominated for this Natura 2000 area. A total of 927 plant species (vascular plants), many endemics, have been documented which represent about one third of all plant species that exist in Austria.


The fruitful cooperation of LTER in the National Park during the last 25 years has been celebrated on the 6th of November 2017 in the park’s visitor center. Apart from scientists and environmental agencies, students from the local school, who have gained insight in fieldwork during a recent project, will present their particular view about LTER (Figure 3). Following the anniversary event, the workshop of the LTSER Platform Eisenwurzen has taken place on 7th November. Under the slogan “Knowledge on and for the Region” scientists and regional stakeholders discussed a strategy to enhance accessibility of existing information on the region for the benefit of sustainable regional development.