Ancient forest statistics provide centennial perspective over the status and dynamics of forest area in France

Key message

Centenary forest statistics informing major attributes of French forests were digitized, checked for consistency, and used to infer forest dynamics. Comparison to forest inventory data highlights increases in forest area and tree diversity, and substantial maturation of forests. Dataset access at


Context The history of European forest dynamic remains fragmental. In France, the Daubrée statistics (1908) and agricultural statistics (1892, 1929) formed fundamental material to fill this gap.
Aims Release, test, and summarize the digitalized dataset. Analyze long-term forest changes in forest area, composition, and structure.
Methods Primary data on forest area across NUTS-3 geographic units, split by forest management and ownership categories and dominating tree species (Daubrée), were digitized and cross-compared. Centennial changes in forest attributes were assessed from modern forest inventory data.
Results Cross-comparison revealed: (1) strong temporal consistency in forest changes over time, (2) systematic and interpretable biases in ownership/management categories between Daubrée and agricultural statistics. Strong shift from coppices to high forests, increased prevalence of private ownership, and constant proportion of broadleaf- and conifer-dominated forests were highlighted, with increased tree species diversity at country scale.
Conclusion Ancient statistics are shown to play a major role in retrospective land-use and forest policy analysis.

Historical data; National forest inventory; Forest dynamic; Land-use change; Forest structure; Tree diversity

Audinot, T., Wernsdörfer, H. & Bontemps, J. Ancient forest statistics provide centennial perspective over the status and dynamics of forest area in France. Annals of Forest Science 77, 77 (2020).

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Data availability
The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available in the Zenodo repository,

Handling Editor
Marco Ferretti

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