Chestnut-dominated forests of the Caucasus Mountain area of Russia are very similar to former chestnut-dominated forests in eastern North America. The distribution, pathology, and reproductive status of European chestnut (Castanea sativa) in the Caucasus are described and compared to that of American chestnut (C. dentata). Chestnut forests are distributed continuously along the southern slope of the Caucasus mountains near the Black Sea, and are found in isolated populations on the north side of the Caucasus, at elevations ranging from 200 to 1300 meters. Chestnut blight was apparently introduced into the region after 1880 and continues to destroy chestnut forests today. Chestnut in the Caucasus is also infected by several other fungal and bacterial parasites and the joint infection of blight and bacteria may be especially dangerous for chestnut trees. Chestnut-dominated forests comprise only a few percent of total forest cover in the Caucasus Biosphere Preserve, and usually occur in mountain valleys or coves with deep brown soil. The age structure and reproductive status of chestnut in the Caucasus was investigated on six study plots in the Caucasus Biosphere Forest Preserve near the upper altitudinal limit of chestnut. Although chestnut is at least 70 percent of the overstory on these sites, there are very few trees less than 50 years old, and very few recent seedlings on any of the plots. Most large chestnut trees appear to have originated as basal spouts from previously established stems. Although chestnut seed production appears adequate, we suspect that competition with shrubs and other tree seedlings, and predation by herbivores and rodents, now prevent the establishment and survival of chestnut seedlings in the Biosphere Preserve.
Additional publication details
Ecology and pathology of European chestnut (Castanea sativa) in the deciduous forests of the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia