The Schorfheide with its sander areas, ground and end moraines is representative for the glacially formed lowlands of northern Germany. Different soil types (podzolised) brown earth, lessivé, pararendzina, podzols, bog soils) are the base for diverse vegetation. With an annual precipitation of about 520-580 mm, the Schorfheide belongs to the driest parts of Germany. Its natural potential vegetation comprises zonal pine-oak forests, beech forests, oak-beech forests, as well as azonal alder and downy birch forests. On dry sandy hills subcontinental xerotherm grasslands occur. Typical of the area is the huge number of lakes, moors, fens and mires.
The exploratory lies within the boundaries of the Biosphere Reserve „Schorfheide-Chorin“, which was established in 1990 in an area of 1300 km². With altitudes between 2 – 139 m a.s.l. it comprises in the west large areas of dry bilberry-pine-forest (Dicrano polyseti-Pinion sylvestris communities) and on the end moraines in the southeast one of the largest beech forests (mainly Asperulo odoratae-Fagetum sylvaticae) in Northern Germany. Large arable fields dominate the forest-free landscape; in contrast, mowed and grazed grassland (mostly Arrhenatherion elatoris, seldomly Calthion palustris and mainly growing on lowland moors) are scarce. The distribution of land use types show the following pattern: 48% forest, 32% arable land, 7% lakes, 6% grassland, 4% built-up area and 4% others (fallows). Forests range from natural old-growth beech forests with trees older than 100 years over mixed forests to intensely managed pine monocultures. The forests of the Schorfheide have been hunting grounds for electors and governmental representatives for many centuries. About one quarter is privately owned. Small scale farming is virtually absent in the area; most farms cultivate more than 500 ha of mainly leased land. Cranes, white-tailed eagle and black storks are the most impressive animals in the Schorfheide. The core area of the biosphere reserve called Grumsiner Forst has been proposed as world natural heritage of the UNESCO. The rural districts Barnim and Uckermark to which the Schorfheide belongs are populated since the Stone Age. Germanic, later Slavic tribes left their footprints in the landscape. Since the 12th century the German colonisation of the East shaped the architecture of the towns with their brick gothic. Adjacent to the eastern boundary the biosphere reservation lays the small town of Angermünde, which was founded in the 13th century by the Ascanians. Here, the biosphere reserve administration is based as well as the management office of the exploratory. Today only 35.000 people live in the biosphere reserve, which is with 28 inhabitants per sqkm very sparsely populated.
Land use and habitat types not included in the studied land use gradient but partly covered by grid plots. From above, left to right: Phragmites reeds on fallow low moor, Carex bog on fallow low moor, Lake in Grumsin forest, high moor, xerotherm grassland, arable land, swamp forest, birch forest.
Forest vegetation in the area
The largest part of the exploratory is covered by pine-beech-forests and especially in the end moraine sites by beech forests (Asperulo odoratae-Fagetum sylvaticae, at small-scale also Luzulo luzuloidis-Fagetum sylvaticae). In the pine-beech-forests, the pines usually represent the top tree layer, while the beech built up a dense middle tree layer. Other tree species in the beech forests include hornbeam, chestnut oak, more seldom small-leaved lime and pine. The herbal layer consists of Anemone nemorosa, Galium odoratum, Lamium galeobdolon, Viola reichenbachiana and V. riviniana as well as Melica uniflora, at poorer habitats Deschampsia flexuosa, Carex pilulifera and Maianthemum bifolium.
Extended pine forests dominate the south of the exploratory. The undergrow is characterised by raspberry, blackberry and bush grass. In these forests beech is increasing.
A very characteristic feature of the exploratory Schorfheide-Chorin are forests on peat, mainly alder forests (Carici elongatae-Alnetum glutinosae), more rarely such peat forests are built up by Betula pubescens and Salix cinerea (Salici pentandro-Betuletum pubescentis).
Of minor importance are forest stands built up by birch (Betula pendula), ash (Fraxinus excelsior) or allochthonous trees such as Picea abies, Quercus rubra , Pinus strobus, Larix decidua and Pseudotsuga menziesii. Other habitat types inside the forest include clearings and forest tracks. Most forested areas are managed as age-class forests, some unmanaged stands (“natural forest”) also exist inside core areas, which are not used anymore since 1990.
Vegetation of open land
The combination of different land use practises, soil types and water budget of the studied grid plots results in a high diversity of vegetation types. Typical species in the grasslands of the exploratory (phytosociologically belonging to the order Arrhenatheretalia) are Poa pratensis, P. trivialis, Holcus lanatus and Trifolium repens. In mowed grasslands (of the alliance Arrhenatherion) Arrhenatherum elatius, Dactylis glomerata and Galium mollugo play an important role, in grazed ones (of the alliance Cynosurion) Lolium perenne, Potentilla anserina and Plantago major. Dry meadows on mineral soil harbour partly a rich flora with Salvia pratensis, Centaurea scabiosa, Lotus corniculatus and Medicago lupulina. In wet meadows of the alliance Calthion on low-moor sedges and rushes (Carex disticha, Juncus effusus), Caltha palustris and Lychnis flos-cuculi are of importance.
Beside grasslands other habitats represented in the grid plots include - on low-moor - sedge swamps with Carex acutiformis, C. riparia and C. acuta, Phragmites communis reeds, nitrophilous edge vegetation on roadsides and river banks (with Petasites hybridus, Urtica dioica and Lamium maculatum) and vegetation on seasonally flooded ground (with Glyceria fluitans, Alopecurus geniculatus and Ranunculus repens). On mineral soils xerotherm subcontinental grasslands and tall herb vegetation - although of minor importance in respect to area and therefore rarely represented in the gridplots- are of specific relevance for the biodiversity of the exploratory. Here Armeria maritima, Helichrysum arenarium, Linum austriacum and Dianthus carthusianorum occur. In contrast to the regularly used cultivated grasslands all these habitats are sporadically used or fallow.
The Exploratory Schorfheide is located in a glacial-formed landscape. The soils consist therefore predominantly of glacial sediments with periglacial deposits. In contrast to the other exploratories, the main soil texture of the Schorfheide area is sand. Despite the location in a ground moraine region, the soils are not skeletal rich. But it has to be considered that the soil types are very variable on a small scale. There are sites where stony, loamy ground moraine material occurs on the surface. In the forest podzolised brown earth and podzols are the dominating soil types, whereas grassland can typically be found on bog soils. As grassland sites are often located in lower land, the soils are affected by ground water.
Typical soils (source: local soil team)