iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


An index of structural complexity for Apennine beech forests

Francesco Maria Sabatini (1)   , Sabina Burrascano (1), Fabio Lombardi (2), Gherardo Chirici (2), Carlo Blasi (1)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages 314-323 (2015)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1160-008
Published: Sep 03, 2014 - Copyright © 2015 SISEF

Research Articles

A broad interest exists in developing structure-based indicators to use as proxies for other attributes that are difficult to assess, such as biological diversity. Summary variables that account for stand-scale forest structural complexity could facilitate the comparison among stands and provide a means of ranking stands in terms of their potential contribution to biodiversity. We developed an index of structural heterogeneity (SHI) for beech forests in southern Italy: (i) we established a preliminary list of 23 structural variables obtained from data routinely collected in forest inventories; (ii) we quantified these variables in a set of 64 beech-dominated stands encompassing a wide range of variability in the Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni National Park; (iii) we identified a core set of attributes that take into account the main sources of structural heterogeneity identified in reference old-growth forests; and (iv) we combined these core attributes into a simple additive index (SHI). We identified eight core attributes that were rescaled to the range 0 to 10 using regression equations based on raw attribute data. The SHI was calculated as the sum of these attribute scores and then expressed as a percentage. The index performance was evaluated against ten reference old-growth beech stands in the Apennines. The index ranged between 38 and 79.1 (median=59.4) and was distributed normally for the calibration dataset. The SHI successfully discriminated between old-growth (range=71.9-99.9, median=85.1) and early-mature to mature forests. Furthermore, the SHI linearly increased with stand age and was higher in multi-layer high forests than in single- and double-layer forests. However, a large variation was detected within both management types and age classes. SHI could be helpful for foresters as a tool for quantifying and comparing structural heterogeneity before and after a silvicultural intervention aimed at restoring the structural complexity in second-growth stands.


“Cilento - Vallo di Diano and Alburni” National Park, Fagus sylvatica, National Forest Inventories, Old-growth Forests, Structural Heterogeneity Index

Authors’ address

Francesco Maria Sabatini
Sabina Burrascano
Carlo Blasi
Department of Environmental Biology, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, p.le Aldo Moro 5, I-00185 Rome (Italy)
Fabio Lombardi
Gherardo Chirici
Dipartimento di Bioscienze e Territorio, Università degli Studi del Molise, c.da F.te Lappone snc, I-86090 Pesche (IS, Italy)

Corresponding author

Francesco Maria Sabatini


Sabatini FM, Burrascano S, Lombardi F, Chirici G, Blasi C (2015). An index of structural complexity for Apennine beech forests. iForest 8: 314-323. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1160-008

Academic Editor

Renzo Motta

Paper history

Received: Oct 22, 2013
Accepted: May 21, 2014

First online: Sep 03, 2014
Publication Date: Jun 01, 2015
Publication Time: 3.50 months

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