I have been in several old-growth forests, and they have a special feeling, at least to me. One of them may have been virgin forest, for which one definition is never been logged.

This is not an opinion based question, because I am not asking if others have any special feeling in an old-growth forest. It would be interesting to know, but it would not answer the question.

The question is: Is it known whether human senses can detect any identifying quality of an old-growth forest, and is this backed up by experiment e.g., possible sensitivity to faint smells in old forests? There seems to me to be a quality to the silence. Possibly this is because I know I am in a special forest, not on anything my senses pick up. Let's confine this to temperate forests.

  • You talk about silence, so you probably need to state how far away from trafficked highways it is (cars are audible a really long way...). And maybe you should state if you are allowed to look at a map or signs that say that it is a nature reserve or not. And maybe you need to say if the forest is left alone or if someone is taking care of it.
    – Emil
    Jul 26 at 5:53
  • Old growth forests have a very distinctive look. Why wouldn't this feeling be purely based on visuals? Jul 26 at 6:11

How about subjective expectations? Aka, Self-fulfilling prophecy

We know wine price factors into the perception of quality. Rephrased:

The participants said they could taste five different wines, even though there were only three, and added that the wines identified as more expensive tasted better. The researchers found that an increase in the perceived price of a wine did lead to increased activity in the mOFC because of an associated increase in taste expectation.

BC, where I live, has some, few, patches of old-growth forest. It is also is covered in dense forests with, second-growth, huge trees that are not being tree-farmed. It's often amusing to see what areas are really old growth vs what areas are only perceived to be old growth. I challenge most people to know the difference on sight, without some careful observation, at least with trees in the 80+ year old range.

Until you convince me your special feelings only come into play, repeatedly, when exposed to old-growth forest that you don't know about beforehand, I'll assume this comes from a scientifically-proven, psychological, phenomena.

Don't get me wrong, I think old growth is worth preserving, on its own terms.

  • Thanks for well expressed skepticism, with examples. It is because I am skeptical by nature that I asked the question. Somewhere, people are sure they saw an aardvak on a leash attacking a german shepherd. I am willing to entertain your answer and gave it a +1 as helpful, but I'd still like a defimitive answer, which can be, "no one really knows."
    – ab2
    Jul 28 at 18:20
  • Well, my definitive answer is "it's in your perception", not "no one knows". I've felt awe, not so much in forests as in proximity to really millennia-old structures. It's perfectly normal to feel something special, if you think about those types of surroundings. But I would not attribute it to any objective, measurable, physical quality, not when perception and interpretation of those locations are likely to affect you deeply though known psychological factors. You don't have to agree with me, but it's definitive, from my point of view. BTW txs for not taking this answer badly Jul 29 at 1:31
  • Well, let's agree to disagree. IMO, there are probably objective characteristics of (some ? many ? typical ? all ?) old growth forests, (e.g., sparsity of undergrowth, thickness of decayed matter on the forest floor, abundance or lack thereof of food for critters) that could add up to sights, sounds, smells, that we register, even if unconscously. Not surprising if this has not been researched; so far, we know very little about anything.
    – ab2
    Jul 29 at 19:31
  • Even if that was true, are you reacting to unknown stimuli? Or to your knowledge that the area is old growth? How do you really identify old growth? Let's 2 local urban parks near me. Stanley Park and Lighthouse Park. About 10km apart, both are forested with massive trees. Stanley was logged, Lighthouse never. At first glance, little looks different. If you look closer, you will find thicker trees in Lighthouse than Stanley but that only becomes apparent when you compare them. I challenge most people to identify features other than maximum trunk width that really show 1 old, 1 new. Jul 29 at 19:56
  • i.e. read signs or look up history and you know what's what. In Cathedral Grove, yes, it's obvious these are old trees, to locals that are not "fooled" by our other big, new, trees. For most other circumstances, meh, I think of audiophiles buying Monster Cables. Jul 29 at 19:59

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